As you think back over your career, there were certainly times when you enjoyed meeting with your supervisor and times when you did not. Both situations were affected by the nature of the meeting, the type of relationship you had with your boss, and/or the amount of respect, fear, or distaste you had for that supervisor.
Some employee meetings you have are brief and easy. They are centered around a low-level performance or behavior issue, or a piece of information that needs to be discussed. But when employee discussions have evolved from a friendly chat, to coaching, to a formal warning, and then on to discipline, the nature of those conversations gets more serious.
The demeanor, attitude and responses of the employee can shift. Most employees, if they are mature, professional and realistic, will deal with your requests for changes like an adult. Some others, however, will bring their personality quirks into a discipline meeting, and put them on display. This collection includes the Arguer, the Litigator, the Excuse Maker, the Crier, the Seether, the Statue, and the Suspiciously Cooperative.
Arguers disagree with every point you make. If you say the sky is blue, they will say it’s really blue and gray. Don’t argue with them when they interrupt. Just say, “This will go faster and better if I talk all the way through and then turn it over to you. If I have done my part correctly, then I will have answered most of your questions.”
The Litigators like to threaten their supervisors, the command staff, or the agency with rebuttals, mounds of paperwork, grievances, hearings, arbitrations, and litigation. Speak your piece, listen politely to theirs, and say, “Well, you certainly have rights under our MOU or the Peace Officer Bill of Rights.”
The Excuse Makers will never admit they are wrong or have a problem and they will never take ownership. Call them on it when they minimize, deny, rationalize, or blame everyone else. When they bring up other employees’ sins, put up conversational “fences” by saying, “I hear what you are saying. I will look into it or have looked into it. Let’s go back to you and what we were just discussing.”
The Criers, while rare among cops, can be either male or female. Their tears can be genuine, which suggests the current discipline issue is stressing them out. Or it can by a ploy to distract you, or put you off your message, in the hopes that you will end the meeting. Better to let these employees dry their tears, give them time to collect themselves, and keep going forward.
The Seethers are like volcanoes. It is all they can do to hold themselves back from exploding. Usually their union rep will have briefed them prior to the meeting to keep it together. You don’t have to be a psychologist to see their anger, frustration, or sense of outrage. Be open, humane and direct. They don’t have to love you or like you. They do have to accept your decisions.
The Statues just sit there stoically, make no comments, nor offer up a defense for their performance or behavioral issues. They just nod and sign the discipline-related form and leave. It’s hard to tell if they are mad, indifferent, or just too burned out or fearful to engage with you. Get through the meeting as best as you can, providing the information you need to.
The Suspiciously Cooperative just want to get the discipline meeting over as fast as possible, so they will completely agree with everything you say and try to get out the door. The problem is their agreement is not followed by changes in their performance or behavior. You have to remind them that while it’s good to hear them say they will do things differently, you will hold them accountable if they don’t.
When facing one or more of these employee types, listen carefully and with empathy, and stay firm, fair, and consistent.
Steve Albrecht worked for the San Diego Police Department from 1984 to 1999. His books include Contact & Cover (C.C. Thomas); Streetwork; Surviving Street Patrol; and Tactical Perfection for Street Cops (all for Paladin Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.