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Read time13 mins

How to Coach a Toxic Employee

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Using the DROP approach to coach toxic employees

Coaching a person who behaves toxically

Learn how to coach people out of behaving toxically, and to behave in a way which is more favourable to the organisation and to their colleagues.

We explain a neurological approach to coaching called the DROP technique. This can be used at a team or individual level and includes four states – destination setting, reality checking, option creation and planning.

Read on to learn more about D.R.O.P

Using the DROP technique to improve toxic behaviours

Watch the video to understand how to work with an employee who's been heaving badly, and understand the four keep components of the DROP technique - destination, reality, options and planning.

Watch the first video in this series here:

Part 1 – What are the characteristics of a toxic person?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 10 – What to do when an employee behaves badly

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number 11 in our 11-video series about toxic behaviours at work.

And this one’s all about coaching.

How to coach people out of behaving toxically, and to behave in a way which is more favourable to the organisation and to their colleagues.

Earlier on in this series of videos, I talked about a thing called a group generated behaviour protocol.

And what that means is where a work group has, together, developed a series of behaviours through kind of a voting process.

Watch that video if you’re interested.

But through a voting process, voted up a series of behaviours that they see as being favourable.

Now, if you’re going to coach an individual to improve their behaviours, having such a resource is very valuable.

And I also differentiated that from the classic organisation-sized mission, vision, values, kind of an exercise, which it’s often very vague and doesn’t have much effect on behaviours at all.

A local generated behaviour protocol, where a group has worked together to generate that, that can be really powerful to help people to turn around their behaviours and to give them clarity about what behaviours are acceptable or not acceptable.

DROP Technique

We’ll be talking about a neurological approach to coaching which can be done at an individual level or at a group level.

And so when we do this kind of an activity for organisations, we quite often use this intervention as a team intervention, but it works at the individual, one-on-one level as well.

It’s a thing called the DROP technique.

And really it says that good coaching has four stages to it.

Destination setting

The first is destination setting.

Destination setting is all about, where are we trying to head in this issue?

So let’s say I am being rude to my colleagues in some way.

Maybe I’m using swear words with them or something like that, and they don’t like it, and it’s not acceptable to the organisation’s policy.

You can look at such a challenge in two ways.

One way to look at it is to say, we want you to stop doing that stuff.

But it’s, in fact, far more successful to have a clear destination that the person moves towards.

And so the destination is something where you make it absolutely clear, and, by the way, the best way of doing this is to work with the person to develop and agree the destination.

So it’s quite often done through a five words or phrases exercise, where you talk through the person, you say, all right, well, let’s agree that the behaviours that have been taking place, that’s not acceptable.

We’ve made that clear to you. Your colleagues are not enjoying them. They’re not helping us as an organisation, and they’re not helping your career.

So let’s agree what you want to be in terms of your interactions with people.

So come up with five words or phrases that describe how you want to be viewed by your colleagues.

Now, the words will come out of the person, and they might be things like, oh, well I want to be seen as professional, I want to be respected, or whatever.

But whatever those words or phrases are, it’s really important that the person generates them themselves.

Now, of course, it has to be endorsed by the organisation, so whoever is leading this person through this coaching exercise has to endorse that, yes, those are fine.

But the more that they engage, the more that they come up with their own behaviours, or come up with their own destination, the more likely it is that change will take place, because that is evidence of engagement.

By the way, if the person says, well, look, I’m not going to get involved in this.

Or they come up with words that are not relevant, or they come up with a destination which is really not an improvement, then I think what you have to do is go back to the previous video, which is to say, well, okay, we’re clearly still in a remediation stage.

You are not buying into this.

And so that moves the person up the escalation path, about, alright, well, now here’s a formal warning, or here’s a dismissal, or whatever, if that toxic behaviour is not being remedied.

The important thing though, is if the person does buy in and they are active in generating these destination statements, I want to be respected, I want to be liked, I want to be somebody who people can rely on, let’s say, if they come up with those kinds of things, then great, you document that together.

And when I’m doing it, I like the person to document it themselves.

And we agree, all right, well, here is the situation that we are heading towards.

So let’s be optimistic now.

Let’s forget what you’ve done in the past.

Let’s move towards the future because now we’re on a remediation path.

Now, of course, obviously, if the person does the behaviours that we’ve trying to move them away from, well, of course, you then go back to the escalation path and so forth, but let’s be optimistic.

And as I’ve seen in many occasions, the person says, okay, well, that’s the past. Now I’m moving forward.

Let’s move towards the destination, that’s D.

Reality checking

Then R is the reality checking.

How bad is this? To what degree is this important to the person to remediate? To what degree is it important for the people around that person?

So for instance, a reality check issue might be, all right, well, you’ve seen the results of what we’ve found so far about your behaviours.

And we’ve seen how people have responded to it.

Let’s ask you to now rate, with all honesty, how bad do you think this is, where 10 is that it’s really terrible, and zero is, it’s not a problem at all.

What do you reckon the rating would be?

And the person might say, well, obviously, you know, people have complained.

It’s a six out of 10 or it’s a seven out of 10, or something like that.

And maybe also some guidance from the leader.

Well, actually, we consider this to be a serious matter.

So if it were to continue, it would compromise your future employment.

So anyway, you get a rating. And so the rating, right now, this is a serious problem, it’s an eight.

Let’s agree where we’ll be when we’ve finished this.

Which is to say, we’re going to work on this together for three months.

And when we are finished, where do you think we should be? We’re an eight right now.

Where do you think we should be? Oh, say, a two, a one, a zero, whatever.

But agreeing that transition, that destination movement, from here’s where we are right now to we need to be here in future.

The more you can make that concrete, the more effective coaching is.

So you end up with a clear destination, but also you’ve kind of agreed the degree to which a person needs to move.

What’s the distance that the person needs to move in order to remediate their behaviour? So if it’s a minor issue, and let’s say it’s a four right now, we want it to go to a three.

Well, that’s an agreement between two people, the leader and the staff member, that this is really fine tuning. It’s not that big a deal anyway, but it maybe it’s a fine tuning kind of exercise.

So that sort of reality check activity can be really powerful.

Option creation

The next stage is option creation, sort of like a brainstorming exercise.

It’s where you’re trying to be as broadminded as possible about things that can be done to remediate this behaviour.

So I want to be seen as trusted, respected, liked, relied upon, what can I do to make that happen?

So it’s not just about stopping doing something, it’s about being more purposeful, it’s about being more future-focused, it’s about being more active.

Okay, well, I could start being polite to people. I could start congratulating people when I think they’ve done something good. I could start doing this, I could start doing that. And this is, again, an exercise where it’s a really good idea to write this stuff down as it’s being created.

So if you are sitting across the desk from somebody and they’re going through this exercise, get them to write it down or maybe you do it on a whiteboard, or whatever.

But the idea is to come up with as many ideas as possible.

Now in this kind of a coaching activity, we know that sometimes people’s skills development is actually about simply coming up with the ideas, coming up with the options to improve things.

Because sometimes, it’s a positive, those ideas.

It’s an absence of those ideas which cause a person to remain in the negative behaviours that we’ve seen in the past.

So option creation of this sort can be extremely developmental because it broadens a person’s perspectives about the options which they’re facing.

It causes them to be more creative, in effect, really useful skill.

Another useful skill is as the person’s going along, and we are developing this, developing this development plan, one of the most valuable skills that you can give to somebody who’s in this sort of situation is the skill of self-evaluation, where they reflect on, how is this going?

So I just interacted with Mary Smith, let me rate myself out of 10. So, okay, that was really good. That was a nine, I think I was really polite and respectful. And I think this would enhance my experience with Mary Smith in the past.

Or if you slip up, yeah, let’s be honest, that’s a three.

That self-evaluation capability is a really powerful self-learning capability.

In fact, research into adult learning suggests that feedback from a coach is powerful only when somebody’s a real beginner.

As they start to build their own skills, the most powerful thing you can do for anybody is to teach them to self-evaluate.

And therefore it becomes self-maintaining rather than having to be constantly coached, and guided, and developed.

What you’re doing is you’re providing them with the capacity to self-develop and to evaluate the progress of their own learning, really powerful stuff.

Planning, doing and reflecting

And the fourth component is planning, doing, and reflecting.

The person has written down six options about things that they can do to get closer to the destination that they want to get to, let’s agree when those things are going to happen.

And one of the things that can be really powerful if for a person’s going through such a coaching exercise is to get them to record a diary, in effect, a result every so often maybe once a couple of days, or maybe once a day, or something like that, to sit down and say, all right, well, these are the things that I agreed with my coach that I’ll be doing to remediate this situation.

Let’s evaluate how this is going and let’s reflect on, okay, I did this, I met with Mary Smith, we had a good conversation. It was a very polite conversation. I gave myself a nine out of 10.

Then I met with Bill Jones. He did something which irritated me, and it was a challenge, but I think I did all right, so I’m going to give myself a six.

And then as you go on, catching up with the coach, let’s say weekly, both of them can see progress by virtue of the fact that this diary records that progress.

Now, one of the things that’s really interesting is that when you coach people like this, let’s say two or three months down the track, they will sometimes look back at earlier diary entries and think to themselves, I can’t believe I did that previously. I can’t believe that that was how I dealt with this issue.

And that’s really evidence of them growing and developing the skills to behave in a positive fashion.

So I think the core concept of this kind of coaching is that it’s not so much about getting away from something, it’s about moving towards something.

And that’s a really strong neurological breakthrough that’s been identified over the last 10 years of adult learning.

It’s far more powerful for people to move towards something that’s favourable than to move away from something that’s unfavourable.

I suppose moving away from something, the big challenge of that is that it’s, of its very nature, directionless.

Whereas moving towards something seems to almost draw people.

Once you’ve got a clear destination, it will draw people towards that.

DROP, destination setting, reality checking, option creation, plan, do, and reflect.

The accountability framework that we mentioned in the previous video must of course be in place.

Toxic behaviours can be hard to overcome, but with the right format, and the right will and skill, on both sides, the person who’s been doing the behaviours and the organisation in backing the person to turn around, you can end up with a good result.

Thanks very much for following this series on toxic behaviours at work.

We hope that it’s been useful to you and that it will help you to optimise your workplace to have more positive behaviours and less negative ones.

Watch the first video in this series to find out more about dealing with toxic employees:

Part 1 – What are the characteristics of a toxic person?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 10 – What to do when an employee behaves badly

And if you’d like some help screening future hires for toxic behaviour, contact us about our Psychometric Assessment Tools.

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