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IDear Workforce-I How Do You Stop a ‘Sherman Tank’

Talk with her about the incidents, and identify areas -- such as stress management and negotiation -- where you can help train her and prevent future problems.
November 8, 2000
Related Topics: Stress Management, Dear Workforce

Dear Workforce:

The second-in-command here has a reputation as a "Sherman Tank" whobullies, belittles and bulldozes her staff and others. Her whole demeanorexpresses "attack."

She was written up according to our complaint procedures almost two yearsago, and seemed to be making strides at controlling herself, in spite of herearlier behavior. Recently she reverted, however, and tore into a new employee,verbally abusing her.

The employee came to HR for advice, and I gave her information on ourproblem-resolution procedures and thoughts of how to handle herself in the faceof such an onslaught. What else can I, or should I be doing?

-- Not-for-profit with about 55 employees in suburban Long Island

A Dear Long Island:

As you know very well, such outbursts can have a major negative impact on theworking environment. Yet, they are incredibly difficult issues for people tochange on their own.

Here are some practical steps to help you get started, beginning with apersonal conversation.

As difficult as it may be, set aside past history and imagine that you arestarting to work on this issue with a clean slate. Schedule at least a one-hourconversation, so you have plenty of time. Your conversation needs to be set upso you both have time to express yourselves.

Start with a clear agenda: "I’m here to talk with you about how youtreated our new employee last week. I thought it was inappropriate behavior on your part, andI’d like to figure out a way to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future.But before I say more about what I saw, I want to make sure I understand whatwas going on from your perspective."

Then ask her what happened and why. Try to get at what she was trying to do,what provoked her, how she thought she was perceived, what other options sheconsidered, etc.

Get a good understanding of her picture of the incident, and of any similarincidents in the last two to three months. Then, when she has presented herstory to her satisfaction (let me emphasize that point!), let her know how yousaw it. Be clear and direct, and completely avoid any blaming or judgmentalterms.

Finally, action planning. Ask her what help she would like, from you or fromothers, to improve her behavior. If you have the resources, considerrecommending that she find a coach to help her.

When we work with people on the topics of anger and emotional outbursts, weoften work with them on three areas in particular:

  1. Stress management and relaxation techniques, to help them stay calmand focused when they feel pressured or face tight deadlines.

  2. Core communication skills of listening and assertiveness. It issurprising how often anger and frustration arise from a lack of appropriateassertiveness skills. She might need better tools for expressing herself clearlyto others, and then listening appropriately to their point of view.

  3. Negotiating and conflict management skills. With those core skills inplace, we teach people better ways to negotiate and handle disagreements andchallenges.

Make sure that you follow-up with her. At least weekly, take a few minutes totalk with her about what you see. This is critically important because it showsthat you are paying attention and helps her stay on track. Start by asking forher opinion on her progress, then present your views.

Briefly describe areas where you’ve seen positive change, as well asexamples of inappropriate behavior. Even if you have little to say, hold theconversation anyway, and ask what additional help she would like from you.

SOURCE: David Peterson, an executive coach andsenior vice president for Personnel Decisions International.

E-mail your Dear Workforce questions to Online Editor Todd Raphael at,along with your name, title, organization and location. Unless you stateotherwise, your identifying information may be used on andin Workforce magazine. We can’t guarantee we’ll be able to answerevery question.


 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

If you have any questions or concerns about, please email or call 312-676-9900.

The Workforce fax number is 312-676-9901.

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