5 Best Tips in Coaching Employees With a Negative Attitude

negative attitude

When you become a manager or business owner, you need to be ready to deal with a wide variety of personalities. There are plenty of good apples out there who will make your job easier, but you also can’t escape the possibility of facing bad ones.

It’s not that some people are genuinely bad or nasty. Sometimes, there are just those with the wrong motivation or who behave in a way that negatively affects the rest of the team.

If you’re new to the whole leadership thing or are having a tough time with some of your employees, read the following five tips that coaching experts swear by:

1.   Coach the Behavior, Not the Attitude

Even if it’s just one person, any team member exhibiting a poor attitude can affect the entire organization, particularly in terms of morale, productivity, customer service, and overall team performance. When this happens, it’s your job as the leader to improve the situation.

Coaching attitude is not what you need to correct this. You literally can’t do that because it’s not possible to coach a person’s attitude. What you need is to coach actual behavior.

Keep in mind that every team member’s behavior can be observed and measured because actions are tangible. For instance, if one employee is rude to his teammates, it’s not actually a problem of attitude but a behavioral issue. Some examples of such behavior are:

  • Eye-rolling and mumbling while someone else is talking
  • Showing up late for team meetings and other important events
  • Sending emails or chat messages containing profanity to other members of the team

These are all actions that can be observed within the workplace and are considered undesirable behavior by most people.

Of course, your team may have a different set of standards, so you need to define what is considered inappropriate conduct. Even better if you can have all team members develop standards of exemplary behavior that they should follow to give them a sense of ownership.

2.   Initiate a Dialogue

Communication has always played a critical role in any relationship, and work-related ones are no exception.

When it comes to coaching an employee with an attitude problem, opening a dialogue is necessary. Of course, this doesn’t have to be too formal like some sort of trial they need to go through.

Instead, initiate the conversation with small talk. If the employee in question takes the bait, you must make sure that he does most of the talking by following certain strategies, such as:

  • Throwing out words you think would get the person talking;
  • Nodding your head when he responds to get him to feel like speaking more; and
  • Pausing during critical moments to see if he will follow up with statements containing details you can use to steer the conversation to where you want it to go.

Take note that this strategy focuses on letting the employee be heard. The idea is to soften them up – as you would with hard soil – so you can plant seeds of behavior modification along the way.

You can structure your initial statement with this example: “I can understand why you’re on edge. You’re expecting a baby, after all. This is truly an exciting time, but it can leave anyone feeling anxious, too.”

If you notice, the idea here is to make the employee feel understood. Empathize and show that you relate to them in the most humanistic way possible.

3.   Establish a Positive Coaching Environment

Successful coaching relies greatly on how it was initiated, so you need to do it positively. To achieve this, there are several actions you must make:

  • Establish a cordial-but-business tone by bringing the person you’re coaching to a private location. If communication is done online (i.e., remote employee setup), do it via direct messaging and never on the company channel or group chat. Put to practice the management principle “praise in public, correct in private,” as no one is keen on being corrected in front of other people.
  • Explain the goal of the meeting in a non-accusatory and friendly manner. The key is to avoid using inflammatory words that may cause the employee to retreat or feel the need to defend himself.

4.   Avoid Being Subjective

Once a person acknowledges his mistakes and inappropriate behavior, the next thing you must do is shed light on how it has affected other members of the team and his own performance at work.

Take note, however, that you must maintain objectivity when doing this. If you suddenly become subjective in front of a person who already feels vulnerable, you might make him feel targeted.

In short, you must describe the undesirable behavior with terms that won’t inflame the situation. Don’t ever tell an employee that his negative behavior or moodiness caused a problem.

Instead, incorporate scenarios and examples that will paint bad behavior in the most neutral way possible. The key is to cite something that you personally observed as a manager or leader of the team. Those that were only reported to you tend to be less effective when dealing with difficult employees.

If you successfully make the person take a step back and put himself in the shoes of those affected by his behavior, then he is more likely to feel remorse and decide that change is necessary.

5.   Practice Patience

When coaching someone who’s in a bad place, you need to practice patience and never jump the gun. Being abrupt in a coaching session can cause the person to clam up and be non-receptive during your conversation.

Remember that communication goes both ways. You need to listen as much as you need to talk.

You must also consider how the other person might react to your words instead of just implementing your communication style according to your disposition. After all, the message receiver’s personality will affect how they process what you tell them.

Be non-combative when approaching such situations, and avoid sounding judgmental or abrasive.

Ask for Help

Coaching employees with a bad attitude is a job every leader has to face at some point in their career.

The tips listed here should help, but just in case you need further guidance, consider business executive coaching. Asking for help is always a sign of good leadership.


Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project. She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program.

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