Get This 6-Step Script To Engage Toxic Employees

  • By Jordan B
  • January 2023

Toxic employees are workers whose bad behaviour and negative attitudes threaten the health and stability of your organization.

Narcissistic employees, pessimistic employees, lazy employees, insecure employees; they can all be toxic in their own way.

Toxic behaviours and attitudes, when left unchallenged, permeate throughout teams and organizations, leading to lost productivity, increased turnover, and lower morale.

Refinery producing heavy pollution.

Toxic employees are not necessarily poor performers, which can make their management even more challenging.

Many of these employees are high performers, and attempts to hold them accountable can introduce risk of losing a top performer.

Two women. One is gesturing dismissively to the other.

In a recent blog on managing toxic employees, we discussed types, warning signs, and what managers can do if they have toxic employees in their organization.

We suggested one-on-one conversations can be helpful, particularly when the employee doesn’t realize they are engaging in problematic behaviour.

Now we’d like to share a simple script to engage toxic employees that you can use in one-on-ones to remove toxic behaviours while maintaining good relationships with employees.

Script to Engage Toxic Employees

You’ve noticed some concerning behaviour coming from one of your top performing employees. They have become hostile and overly critical of the performance of less experienced employees.

You would prefer not to terminate this employee, so instead you try to extinguish the behaviour without removing them.

You decide to sit down with them for a one-on-one conversation.

1. Start the conversation by addressing the purpose of the meeting: your concern about their toxic behaviour and the impact it is having on the team.


“I wanted to talk to you about your behaviour and the impact it is having on the team. We’ve noticed that you have been consistently negative and critical of others, and it is affecting morale and productivity.”

It is important to clarify that your concern is the toxic behaviour and negative outcomes, and not the employee’s character. Describing someone as “toxic” to their face may put them on the defensive, decreasing the likelihood of having a productive dialogue.

A seated man passes a note to a standing woman.

2. Ask the employee for their reasoning for their behaviour, and whether they recognize that their behaviour is problematic.


“I would like to understand your perspective and why you think you have been behaving this way. Can you share your thoughts with me?”

Be empathetic! Don’t make your employee feel like they are a problem that needs to be solved. The behaviour is the problem and you are collaborating to solve it.

3. Listen to the employee’s response and try to understand their perspective. Avoid interrupting or arguing with them.


“Thank you for sharing your perspective with me. I appreciate you taking the time to talk about this. Can you tell me more about what has been going on for you?”

Listen actively. Make them feel heard. Communicate that their problems are your problems and you are here to help. Let them know you appreciate them being candid with you.

A man listening intently to an out of focus speaker in the foreground.

4. Once you have a better understanding of the employee’s perspective, explain how their behaviour is impacting the team and the company.


“I understand that you have been going through some personal challenges, and that may be affecting your behaviour. However, the negativity and criticism are having a negative impact on the team and the company. It is important that we work together to create a positive and productive work environment.”

While it is important to be empathetic, do not let their personal issues become a “get out of jail free card.” Help them understand that their actions have consequences and impact the lives of others, and that your top priority is the health of the team and the organization.

5. Offer support and resources to help the employee improve their behaviour and performance.


“I want to support you and help you improve your behaviour and performance. Is there anything you need in order to do that? We have resources available to help with personal challenges or professional development. Let’s work together to find solutions and create a positive working environment.”

Once the two of you better understand each other, collaborate on a solution that works for everyone.

6. Set clear expectations and consequences for continued toxic behavior.


“I want to be clear about what is expected of you moving forward. We expect you to be professional, respectful, and positive in your interactions with others. If your behaviour does not improve, there will be consequences, including potential disciplinary action. Let’s work together to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

While it is important to be sympathetic and to make sure your employee doesn’t feel like they’re being attacked, it is also important that they understand toxic behaviour will not be tolerated, and that extinguishing the behaviour should be a priority for them.

Two people shaking hands.

We hope you’ve found this script to engage toxic employees useful. Your ultimate goal when meeting should be to remove the behaviour without removing the employee. Engaging with the employee empathetically, offering support, and treating the behaviour as a problem for you to solve collaboratively will help ensure a win-win solution.

If you need more than a script to engage toxic employees and want to prevent toxic behaviour before it ever even starts, get in touch with the team at TRAITS today! Our world-class talent assessment helps ensure you only hire people who are highly motivated by the work, preventing the disengagement that can lead to toxic behaviour.


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