logo image

ATD Blog

Challenging Employees Made Easy—Well Easier


Mon May 13 2013


A simple method for reducing anxiety when confronting an employee.

Challenging Employees Made Easy—Well Easier-45b277b2a5c5b2e5e14d8e95a976ed1ecb2e90607bd4d86bbe0e5ad6600d38ae

Do you hate conflict? Do you cringe at the thought challenging an employee on their productivity or work ethic? If you do, you’re in good company. At least 50% of us possess the personality styles that illicit dread when having to confront someone. I must confess, every time I need to challenge an employee, not only do I feel anxious before, I usually feel uneasy for a short time after. Yet as a manager, calling others higher and enforcing standards are crucial aspects of your job.  

To make the job of confronting someone a little easier I created a script that I use to set my thinking straight before I ever open my mouth. It’s part pep talk and part reminder of my role as a leader. While it won’t make those hard talks completely painless, this four-part formula will reduce your anxiety and lessen the chance of you chickening out.


I have reduced it to an acronym I call G.R.I.T.

  1. Great Leaders are Servants

  2. Respect their Strength

  3. Ignore the Smokescreen

  4. Trust the Cycle

The next time you are feeling anxious about confronting an employee, first read through these four points. Once your talk with the individual is over, re-read them again.

1. Great leaders serve others by speaking the truth.

Great leaders put others before themselves. When you fail to speak the uncomfortable truth you are actually hurting that individual. If you allow them to continue with sub-par performance, you are not working in their best interests or in the best interest of your organization. Great leaders must be able to put their own comfort level aside in order to serve others and do what’s best for the team.

2. Respect their strength


You may be hesitant to challenge an employee because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. This seemingly altruistic motive to avoid speaking truth is usually cowardice in disguise. Respect that your people have the strength to hear what you have to say. After all, do you have the strength to hear hard truth spoken to you? I know you do. So extend the same respect to others. They are not made of glass.  

3. Ignore the Smokescreen

The anxiety you feel is a smokescreen. Do not listen to it or let it bother you. It only exists inside your mind. Once you are past this event it will dissipate.

4. Trust the Cycle

There is a predictable cycle that happens whenever people are confronted. It has three general stages.


Stage 1. Resistance  

Most people don’t like being challenged. There are many reasons for this but essentially it shakes them out of their comfort zone. Resistance has many faces from defensiveness, anger, sulking, and even retreating. Some people are better at hiding their discomfort than others. Don’t let resistance bother you. It should be expected.

Stage 2. Processing and Action.

After people have moved past their feelings of defensiveness, anger, or insecurity, they usually allow your words to sink in. It is important to remember that people need time to process what you said. Some need more than others. As they process they begin to make the necessary changes.

3. People experience success

As they make changes, they reap the rewards. This turns any ill feelings they had into ones of gratitude and respect towards you.

This cycle is common yet leaders often try to interrupt it. Don’t get bent out of shape if your employee seems distant for a few hours after you have challenged them. They are processing. Resist the urge to step in and fix something that doesn’t need to be fixed.  Trust this cycle.

Next time you have to challenge an employee and you are feeling nervous about it, use G.R.I.T. to set your mind and calm your anxiety. The acronym spells GRIT because, let’s face it, challenging others requires some inner fortitude. Recite the four steps to yourself both before, and after you have to challenge someone. The more you use this the easier tough talks will become.

You've Reached ATD Member-only Content

Become an ATD member to continue

Already a member?Sign In


Copyright © 2024 ATD

ASTD changed its name to ATD to meet the growing needs of a dynamic, global profession.

Terms of UsePrivacy NoticeCookie Policy