Wait, I’m the Problem Child?…Now What? Part 1

So, it’s you. Maybe you saw it coming. Maybe you’ve known you’re a bit difficult for your team or boss to handle. Maybe it’s a complete surprise. Maybe you were blindsided. Regardless, you’ve now had the talk. Your boss or your boss’ boss or some kind of corporate superior sat you down to tell you there’s a problem. And that problem is you. Your performance, your behavior, your attitude, your relationships or lack thereof are about to cost you your job, a promotion or an opportunity. Whatever the issue is, you’ve been notified that your organization, team or boss has a problem with you. Your boss has identified specific behaviors and their impact on your team and organization. They’ve outlined clear changes they need to see in the way you do your work and relate to others. Even if your boss handled the conversation perfectly, it’s still difficult feedback to hear. You’ve just found out you’re the problem child. And now you are faced with making changes.

Admittedly, no one really wants to be the problem child. Sure, some people pride themselves on pushing the limits, being a renegade or bucking the system, but being the problem child, well that’s not anyone’s favorite title. And now it’s yours. What do you do?

You have some decisions to make. Yes, you have a choice in the matter. For some reason, many people forget that they’re employed at will. It’s your choice to be at work. It’s your choice to behave as you do. It’s your choice to remain the same and it’s your choice to change. All of this is volitional. If you’re reading this it’s doubtful that you’re an indentured servant or forced labor. So, you can choose to stay or you can choose to go. Don’t make it’s something it’s not. Your behavior has gotten you into trouble at work. The company will choose for you to leave unless you choose to change your behavior. That’s the arrangement and it’s appropriate. Beyond standards laid out by employment law, your organization, your CEO, your boss and your manager get to set the behavioral and cultural norms that govern what works and what doesn’t in your environment. You get to choose to live by them or exit to live without them. If this isn’t the work you want to be doing nor the people you want to be working with go ahead and leave. You’ll be doing yourself a favor and can go search out work you actually want to do. And the team you leave behind will feel a weight off their shoulders as well. Win/win.

Everyone’s initial reaction to such direct feedback paired with what may be an ultimatum is a bit different. Most people are initially hurt. We all respond to such hurt in different ways. Some of us are defensive. Some of us are immediately contrite. Some are sensitive and deeply moved. Some are stubbornly resistant appearing unmoved by the feedback. Some still shut down and boil inside. There are a wide variety initial responses to this type of feedback. Some are more damaging than others. If you’re one to speak quickly, this is a time to slow down your response for your own sake. You can’t take back what you say once it’s out there. You may be hurt, offended or confused. Those are common experiences. This type of feedback is unsettling. You’ll be shaken up for a while. How you respond impacts how this process will play out.

You must decide what kind of person you are and how you’re going to respond. You may be a Misfit and realize the role or environment you’re in isn’t the right fit, so you leave. Or you’re a Combustible and you respond explosively and toxically. Maybe you’re a Subtle Saboteur and you stick around quietly inflicting damage on your team or organization from the inside. You might be a Survivalist needing the job and may make necessary changes to satisfy a need to keep the lights on at home. You may identify more closely as the Icicle who desires to make positive changes, but freezes in place paralyzed by fear induced by the negative feedback. Then there’s the Contritionist who genuinely leans into the process and embraces the coaching working to change their story in the organization. Each type responds differently and have their unique impact on the organization and their team. Stay tuned for greater detail on these types in part 2.


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