What to do when it’s all bark and no bite

Ever had an employee who raised her hackles all the time? It’s tempting to coddle that person, in an attempt to avoid the unsavory hostility, but that just leads to more headaches and no resolution.

Oliver explored the vet's office with ease; Grace was not so cordial. Despite Grace's insistence that she didn't want her nails clipped, the vet and I persevered and accomplished the task. Faced with demonstrative protests, it can be difficult to hold steady with your goals, but you shouldn't relinquish them because of any outbursts.
Oliver explored the vet’s office with ease; Grace was not so cordial. Despite Grace’s insistence that she didn’t want her nails clipped, the vet and I persevered and accomplished the task. Faced with demonstrative protests, it can be difficult to hold steady with your goals, but you shouldn’t relinquish them because of any outbursts.

Yesterday I took our two cats to the vet for their annual visit. Grace came along to get her nails clipped, a routine visit for her because she won’t let me trim them. While Oliver was being curious and explored every surface he could, Grace stayed huddled and nervous in the corner. It’s a friendly staff that welcomes her with generous kindness, in spite of the off-putting demeanor that she gives back in return. The cheerful greetings are comforting to me, but don’t seem to help Grace and she was visibly upset. We wanted to ease her anxiety, but in the end the vet knew what I knew, we had to find a way to settle her enough to accomplish the task.

Faced with demonstrative protests, it can be difficult to hold steady with your goals, but you shouldn’t relinquish what you’re after solely because of an outburst. It’s important to understand the cause of the disturbance and work through that, as opposed to focusing on the tantrum alone. Grace had good reason — in her own mind — for being upset. But leaving her with long nails was not an option. There was a time when I would have backed down, but Grace has taught me that lesson before.

In the workplace, managers and co-workers sometimes face an individual who routinely lobs sarcastic comments, has a snarly attitude, or has an unprofessional outburst. Of course, each situation warrants care, as you need to understand how serious and deep the discontent lies. But generally, the best course of action is to ensure that you get control of the situation as soon as possible. Here are three steps to help in that regard:

1. Assess the magnitude of the scene. At first blush, the outburst may appear much more hostile than it is really is. More often, there is a lot more bark than bite. When someone reaches a tipping point of frustration, spewing may happen out of sheer impulse without the individual even thinking about the impact on others.
2. Take control. Hold firm with your intentions, not allowing the disruption to change the course. Far too often, I see managers who shy away from discussing an issue with an employee because they know they could receive a fire hose of negativity. That is not a good reason to avoid the conversation!
3. Be respectful of the other person’s needs. This is a key factor in your successful forward-momentum. Forging ahead without regard to what created the dissent is not a good plan, either. Understand, as much as you can, what is behind the other’s person view. You don’t have to agree with it, but it gives you data to help you overcome objections and explain the counter point.

The vet got through trimming all of Grace’s nails, though it took some extra time and coaxing. She knew what had to be done and she offered her patient respect and encouragement to get through it, even though Grace didn’t show any appreciation in return. As managers (and veterinarians), sometimes you have to perform a thankless job. Don’t let a bark make you think an employee will bite.

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