Q: After a team member left the company, I found indications that he was trash talking about me with other team members. Now I am having trouble trusting them and their loyalty to me and the team. How can I handle this?
Francis, 40, head of communications
A: It doesn’t pay to write off your team based on your departed staff member’s behavior.
Think about it this way. If you were part of the team and fell under this type of suspicion, would it feel fair? Then consider if you’d tried to shut down the disgruntled employee or bring him around to be more positive. It would be very discouraging to be mistrusted.
Given that, what would it take for you to give these folks the benefit of the doubt?
Take conscious steps to focus on the brighter side. Person by person, think about their positive attributes and behaviors. Separate your thinking about them from this incident to help yourself move on.
Some may have gotten caught up in the negativity. If you haven’t seen any behavioral manifestations, consider just moving on from it.
If it continues, you’ll need to confront the perpetrator to end the corrosive style of interaction.
Should this be necessary, prepare carefully for the conversation. Don’t go into it angry; instead, outline the situation as you see it using non-accusatory, behavioral based language, while also being clear about any consequences for behavior that is destructive to the team.
Keep in mind that there may be legitimate grievances. For example, if you don’t make enough time for your team members, gibes could be made about how busy and important you think you are, or how you don’t really care about people.
Determining this calls for self-reflection and also for some feedback. Discuss the situation with trusted peers, and then open the floor to your team. You could even position your feedback request by saying, “I know Joey was dissatisfied with some things, and I’d like to hear from you what issues you might have in order to help turn things around.”
Just be sure that you’re willing to make changes, or at least respond with reasons that some things are outside your control. There’s nothing worse than feedback that never gets acted on.
Issues may not be personal; they may relate to understanding of the company’s direction, worries about the organization’s future, or disappointment with opportunities for training and development. Look for ways that you can better understand and address people’s needs.
Be creative. For example, if you don’t have a training department, brainstorm other resources your employee could tap into.
After all, trust and loyalty is a two-way street. If you were a member of your team, would you know that your boss had your back? It’s naive to think that your team will be loyal to you if you haven’t set up an environment that is mutually supportive.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.