Mary finished listening to a story from Cindy, about something Nicole had failed to do. She was now mad. How could Nicole have done that? What was she thinking? She immediately went to find Nicole while saying to herself, I know this won’t go well. Her heart started racing, and then in a stern voice told Nichole to come into her office. After barely sitting down, Mary launched into her unhappiness with Nicole’s performance, recounting the story from Cindy. Her voice rose with each sentence, barely taking a breath, going on and on that she was hurt, disappointed and Nicole should know better. It ended with telling her she was suspended. Nicole responded immediately and soon it was a shouting match between the two, back and forth. Nicole’s parting words were, “If you had let me talk, I would have told you what you heard was only partially true, there is more to the story”, then she slammed the door.
Do you think that went well? Of course not. What did that interaction do to their relationship? What if there was more to the story?
Leaders avoid discipline as if they were going to the dentist. There is a high level of anxiety and an assumption it won’t go well, because in the past it rarely has. But it’s an important part of a leader’s job.
I’ve dealt with many leaders and employees about discipline. I’ve learned three things that are critical to success.
- Make sure you have the facts – If someone tells you a story about a team member who did something wrong, make sure you verify it’s accurate. Your credibility as a leader and your relationship with your team member is on the line, don’t jump to a conclusion. In most situations, you should speak with the employee to hear their side of the story, before deciding to move to disciplinary action. It’s a sign of respect to hear it all. I’ve witnessed leaders move too quickly without all the facts, which ended up being not what they thought. The consequences were devastating for the employee and the leader. Remember, discipline doesn’t need to happen the day you speak with them about their side of the story, it can wait until the next day.
- Never discipline with emotion – If you are mad or upset at someone, resist the urge to meet with them. If it’s extremely serious, you can always tell them to stop working and talk with them the next day so that you have time to calm down and gather your thoughts. Anger is an emotion, so is disappointment or frustration. When you are emotional, your brain doesn’t work its best. It won’t allow you to listen well, nor will it help you to choose the right words to convey what the employee needs to hear. Meet when you’re ready.
- Avoid too much talking – You don’t need to be long winded, saying over and over the same things. Review with them what happened (the facts), why it’s a problem and the consequences of it happening again. The “why” should not be, “You violated our policy …” Talk about the impact of their actions. As an example, if the issue was attendance, remind them the reason the organization has an attendance policy is because absences impact others on the team or those the organization serves. Focus on that. And don’t get drawn into a debate. Allow them to speak, but don’t let them try to convince you that you are wrong.
Discipline is important. Avoiding it says, “I don’t care about you.” Do it but do it the right way.
Being punished isn’t enjoyable while it is happening—it hurts! But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character. Hebrews 12:11 (TLB)