Inside Disruption Blog

Managing hostile employees

Cassie Yatsko-Shurr
March 29, 2017

We work with many clients on high-risk terminations to prevent workplace violence. But what if it never needed to escalate to that?


A common trigger for many people who commit workplace violence is the perception they are being reprimanded or terminated “out of nowhere.”  Up until this point, it is likely that no one has bothered to confront them about their behavior, and this incident may seem trivial in comparison.


We’ve all known that person at work that no one wants to deal with. The employee that bullies, intimidates, and never takes responsibility for their actions. What is the best advice we can give our clients regarding these employees?


  • Do not wait until the last minute to confront a problem employee.
  • Communicate with those employees. Do not move them around the organization in hopes the problem will go away. By not approaching this employee right away, you are giving permission to continue this behavior, and lowering the morale among the rest of your team.


Nobody likes to provide negative feedback about performance, but in order to keep things from escalating that conversation needs to happen. Here are some tips for having that uncomfortable conversation:


  • Rehearse the meeting in your head. Run through all possible scenarios so you feel ready for anything.
  • If you’re concerned about possible safety issues, make a plan. Our Chairman, Bruce Blythe, wrote a piece: “Layoffs and Terminations: When hostility or violence is a concern” that can be applied to this scenario as well.
  • Focus on the behavior, not the person. This conversation should be professional, not personal.
  • Treat the person with respect and dignity. This cannot be emphasized enough.
  • Be clear and direct. Never backpedal or change the message.
  • Let them know the positives that they bring to the table and how that gets overshadowed by the negative impact of their behaviors
  • Provide your take on the impact that they are currently having versus what impact they need to be having to be successful. Again, be concrete and direct. They need to clearly understand the changes that need to take place.
  • Ask them their perspective. Is your feedback resonating with them? What are they struggling with?
  • If the conversation becomes defensive or emotional, do not engage in an argument. Acknowledge that the tension exists and offer a break. Ask them what they need right now.
  • Follow up with the employee. This ensures that the message was received and allows for continued relationship building in a positive and constructive way.
  • There is, the possibility that the meeting could be ineffective or create more tension. This means that a different approach should be taken. The longer this employee is allowed to stay, the more difficult to terminate them later. And of course, the most important rule when dealing with situations like this: document everything.


Even though having the conversation can be hard, there are benefits to providing this feedback. In the best-case scenario, it could solve the problem early before it has time to get worse and prevent a hostile situation.

Cassie Yatsko Shurr