Addressing Disruptive Behavior

A client asks, "One of my company's top-producing sales representatives can be very sarcastic. Though sometimes entertaining, this behavior can be unpleasant during staff or one-on-one meetings. I would like to improve this situation. Any suggestions?"

The good news is that this individual is good at selling. Like many salespeople, they are probably verbally quick and have a good sense of humor. The bad news is that there is a dark side to the wittiness that manifests itself - surprise - verbally. This situation is not uncommon and it is manageable. But it will take time, patience and consistency on your part before it is under control.

First, hold a meeting with the sales representative to discuss this situation only. Do not mix it in with a review of their monthly sales forecast, for instance. Tell them what you have observed and experienced and how it affects you and others. Appeal to their competitive side. Let them know that customers might find their sarcastic demeanor unpleasant and that it may well affect them financially. They will deny this, but it will get their attention.

Ask them why they are sarcastic at times. Hear them out. Is it possible that they are upset about an issue within the company? Do they have trouble being direct when they are angry? Are they trying to prove that they can do whatever they want because they are a top producer? Promise to look into issues that may be bothering them. But stress that no matter what problems occur in the future, sarcasm is not the way to deal with them. Tell them that people will be more receptive to hearing what they have to say if they communicate more pleasantly.

Next, have a strategy in place. If they are being sarcastic during a one-on-one meeting with you, calmly end it. Say something like, "Let's meet again tomorrow when you are in a better frame of mind." Do not let them bully or apologize their way into letting the meeting continue. Stand your ground. If they exhibit this unwanted behavior in a staff meeting, discuss it with them immediately afterwards.

Schedule meetings on a regular basis to discuss the situation. Talk about setbacks. Bring up specific situations in which you have noticed their old behaviors coming out. Most importantly, "catch" them communicating in a more straightforward style as often as you can and praise them for it.

Remember, if you have lived with this conduct for a quite a while it will take some time to make the situation manageable. Don't expect perfection. There may always be the occasional sarcastic comment; it's part of their personality. But with consistency and patience, progress can be made. Good salespeople are hard to find and this one sounds like they are worth putting effort into.