How to Manage Toxic People and Bad Attitudes

Have you ever had to work with someone whose negative and difficult personality impacted productivity and caused additional stress? Here’s a strategy to turnaround destructive behavior and a caustic attitude to make a toxic person a model employee.

Have you ever found yourself in this situation? “Their negativity rubs off on the rest of the team, which creates such a hostile, fear driven and cutthroat atmosphere that brings everyone down.” “They’re actually a solid performer. It’s their toxic attitude and ‘lone wolf’ approach that needs to change.” “If they weren’t so difficult to talk to and didn’t resist or complain about every change and process within the company, they could actually be really successful here.” “I can’t work with that person. Their arrogance and lack of respect prevents them from listening or learning from anyone since they think they already know everything.” “I’m spending more time dealing with the interpersonal problems this person causes instead of coaching and developing my team to achieve more.”

These common examples illustrate how employees, peers and managers struggle with finding the best way to approach someone about changing their negative attitude and behavior; especially if they’re a top performer.

It could take just one person on your team to sabotage you from achieving your monthly and yearly business objectives. This type of distraction shifts the focus from your business objectives to doing triage, hoping to prevent further damage to the team’s motivation, culture, focus, performance and activity. Moreover, the additional collateral and costly damage can include strained internal relationships, eroded trust among clients and prospects, your limited time, team attrition, productivity, stress, lost sales and revenue, your team’s culture; even a tarnished company brand.

In my prior article, Shoot the Messenger: How to Eliminate Corporate Silos, Repair Trust and Build Exceptional Relationships, I poured the critical foundation and strategy to become a strategic, intentional and collaborative communicator who can foster an environment of unity and collaboration. This article provided a template and strategy to repair trust and break down departmental silos that prevent companies from maximizing talent and create a culture of mutual support that results in more rapid and effective goal attainment.

What follows is an email thread with a VP of sales concerning one of his territory managers and the challenges he’s having dealing with a difficult person who is in dire need of an attitude makeover. The outcome of this conversation was a template and talk track you can use when dealing with this type of person to reinvent your relationship with them. By taking this approach, this person will actually want to change instead of exhausting your time and energy preaching and trying to push them to improve, self-reflect and embrace accountability around their personal development.

From: Chris

To: Keith

Sent: Monday, May 15, 2017 3:19 PM

Subject: RE: Follow up Coaching Advice Needed


Thanks for willing to help. I have a Territory Manager who has been selling in the industry for almost 15 years. I have been struggling to keep him motivated and positive. He is currently over plan but continues to blame his teammates, other departments, the customer, the company and me for any problems he encounters within his territory. He is a very knowledgeable and talented sales professional but he always seems to look at a situation from a glass half empty vs. half full. And what’s worse, is the behavior he demonstrates in front of the team and even in front of our customers. I was making progress implementing some of the techniques from your L.E.A.D.S. Coaching Model, but when our company launched our new compensation plan, his behavior got even worse.

He has such a hard time managing his reactions and emotions that when his outbound calls don’t go as planned or if he fails to close a deal or if his teammates don’t agree with him, he rants throughout the office, throws his chair, curses everyone around him and those ‘responsible’ for his problems, and bangs the phone on his desk. As you can imagine, this is a major distraction for the rest of the team and can even be intimidating for some who are on the receiving end of his wrath. I’m more concerned with having a solid producer who’s modeling this type of poor behavior in front of the rest of the team and getting away with it; basically setting the example that this behavior is acceptable and the norm.

I’m trying to get him back on track. Even though he is a consistent producer, I don’t want him to infect the rest of my team with his harmful behavior and attitude. I understand your schedule is very tight but any help you can offer would be much appreciated. Thank you! Chris

Get a Coach for the Coach before Coaching Others

From: Keith Rosen, MCC

To: Chris

Sent: Sunday, May 18, 2017 1:19 PM

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the backdrop. Just so I have a clear understanding of the interactions and conversations you’ve had with this person, I have a few questions for you that need to be answered in order to create the best solution.

  1. How do you typically handle these situations? What do the conversations sound like?
  2. What criteria are you using to measure positive change?
  3. How much did he tell you about what motivates him? What are his top five values or priorities that he shared with you?
  4. What are his career goals? How does he want to be known?
  5. What assumptions could you be making about this person regarding how they may react to you if you bring your observations to him? What assumptions might this other person be making?
  6. How much of your past experiences are you projecting into your next interaction with him, which often creates the same experiences over and over again?
  7. How much thought have you put into your approach to how you’re going to reset your relationship with him? And if you did, what will it sound like when approaching him in a way that would demonstrate support around achieving his goals while letting him know he needs to improve his attitude?

Chris, regardless of making plan, you can’t have this negativity breed and fester on your team. That’s why your next step is having this reset conversation. I’ve created a talk track and template for you below. The most important part of this coaching strategy is ensuring you approach this person in a way that would open him up to want to talk with you in the first place because they see the benefit for them.

Creating Buy -In – Approaching the Toxic Top Producer

After reading through Chris’s response, here’s the template I sent him. “Perry, what I want for you is to continue your successful career that you’ve told me you’ve enjoyed for years. Reflecting back on our last conversation, you mentioned wanting to figure out some ways to reduce your feeling of overwhelm and cut down your administrate work by getting more support from the rest of the team. Collaborating more effectively will take some of these tasks off your shoulders so that you can spend more time selling. This way, you wouldn’t have to deal with the frustrations and stress that ensues. I’ve observed a few things that if we can work on together, would make you even more successful, less frustrated and enable you to achieve what’s most important to you. Are you open to discussing this?”

Time to Coach but Set Intentions First

Once this person says yes, let the coaching kick in!  Keep in mind that the questions below are more of a buffet. Modify them to ensure they fit your situation. You don’t have to use all of the questions, unless you feel they’re all relevant. Here’s how you can coach through this conversation.

You: Given your tenure and success here, people look up to you for guidance and as a model for success. I want to ensure you maintain the positive brand that you’ve created here and be the sales leader I know you are. Now, success isn’t limited to hitting or exceeding plan. It’s also how you interact and collaborate with others. I’ve noticed some behaviors that may impede this, which is what I wanted to bring to your attention. Please know that I’m sharing this with you with only good intentions and a way to help you, okay? So, are you open to hearing what I’ve observed?

Person: Sure.

Coaching the Who vs. The What. Coaching the Inner Game of Success

If there’s one thing managers struggle with when coaching, it’s how to coach attitude. Reason being, there’s often no “Go do” at the end of the conversation but more of a “Go be,” as in who they need to be, the characteristics they need to exemplify and model, and the shifts they need to make in their thinking, instead of just focusing on what they need to do. This is less about coaching activity, strategy or skill. If you want to create long term change, beliefs precede experience. Therefore, if you can coach someone to shift their thinking, the byproduct is a positive change in behavior for the long term rather than the short term. What follows is what it can sound like when coaching the inner game of success.

You: Perry, one thing I’ve observed is that, when you get frustrated because something isn’t working out, you tend to have a very strong emotional reaction. Some examples include banging the phone on the desk, using profanities when yelling at the people you feel are not doing their job, not getting the other team’s involved when they’re needed to move the sales process forward, and kicking your chair over. Are we aligned here so far?

Person: I’d say so.

You: Thanks for being open around this. I’ve also observed in some conversations throughout your day, there’s a tendency to point fingers at other people for the reasons why things don’t go as planned. Or, you become angry, even verbally hostile and abusive.

  1. How much of this do you accept is true? How aware are you of this behavior?
  2. Where is your reaction coming from? What past experiences have caused you to react this way?
  3. What’s your belief or assumptions around this that’s causing your reaction?
  4. What else could be true?
  5. When this happens, what’s the inner conversation or thinking behind this?
  6. What part of this are you accountable for?
  7. How aware are you regarding how your behavior and attitude impacts the people around you?
  8. If nothing changes, how can this impact your (relationships, success, personal satisfaction, health, personal brand, career advancement, etc.)?
  9. How does this affect your relationships with others, especially the people you need to rely on to get your job done?
  10. If we were to switch roles, what do you see? How would you handle this?
  11. What’s a more positive outlook you can adopt?
  12. How do you want to be known?
  13. What impact do you want to make in your career and with the people you work with?
  14. What deeper level of value can you deliver to your peers, company and customers?
  15. What new belief or healthier way of thinking would make you less frustrated, happier and enable you to best leverage the people and resources in the company to best support your goals in a positive way?
  16. What role can you play in this that would reduce frustration and allow you to effectively collaborate towards a solution, without getting upset or frustrated?
  17. What would be another approach you can use to resolve certain challenges that would come across in a more positive way?  What would be possible for you if you did so?
  18. What’s the conversation you need to have with certain people that will positively reset your relationship with them and create a relationship of mutual support that achieves everyone’s goal? What would it sound like?
  19. Given what we discussed, how can I support you around making these changes?
  20. If I see you reverting back to some toxic behavior, is it okay for me to pull you aside and let you know?
  21. Is there a specific way you’d like me to do this? Either a trigger word or physical gesture?
  22. So, how are you feeling about our conversation?
  23. What’s your next step to turning your behavior and attitude around?
  24. When should we reconnect to gauge your progress so that I can continue to support you?

Try this approach, Chris, and let me know how it works. I look forward to your feedback!

Recognizing the Win!

From: Chris

To: Keith

Sent: Monday, May 22, 2017 3:19 PM

Hi Keith,

I wanted to report back to you after having this conversation with my territory manager. All in all, it went extremely well. He was open to having the conversation after I presented it the way you suggested in order to best engage him. Then, as I asked him the questions, he began to open up more and really took ownership around how his caustic behavior and attitude impacts him as well as his team, the people around him, and his success. His ability to self-reflect, expand his awareness and own this is a great win. I couldn’t have done this without you. Thanks again!

Healthy Communication Is Your Responsibility

It’s a core mantra I share. When you change the conversation, you change the outcome. Using this approach, you eradicate the destruction done by some people’s toxicity that weakens the bond of teamwork and instead, develop the strong and healthy relationships needed to create a unified front that collectively moves towards a shared vision.