Ain’t Misbehavin’

Ain’t Misbehavin’

It’s true that some people are more easy-going than others. But even the most tolerant amongst us, at some time, wish that others would behave better.

  • My manager is rude
  • My staff are lazy
  • A colleague doesn’t respect me
  • The kids never clean their room….

Once these behaviours start to bother us, it’s easy to become completely fixated on them, and before long it’s the only thing we notice. I’m not sure what the opposite of rose coloured glasses is, but pretty soon this behaviour pervades our whole perception of the other person, fuelling our ever-increasing negativity and resentment towards them. We just want them to behave better, but don’t know how to influence them. Many of us have had more luck teaching the Labrador to fetch the newspaper, than getting our kids or our colleagues to behave the way we want.

In the workplace, behaviour that starts of as annoying or mildly disruptive, can soon become intolerable or unacceptable, leading to significant interpersonal conflicts as well as serious performance issues.  So it’s not surprising that one of the most common management challenges raised by my coaching clients is how to correct disruptive, inappropriate or unethical behaviour.

So here’s some suggestions. These might be easier if you’re in a position of authority, but even as a peer, team member, colleague or friend, you can still influence bad behaviour with the right approach:

1. Start by identifying the behaviour that you want– we can usually talk for hours about behaviours that bother us, but find it hard to articulate what we want instead.  If your manager communicates badly, what specifically do you want to her to do differently? Eg: I would like her to pass on the key points from the Executive meeting that impact on my team, give me monthly feedback about my work and consult with me on proposed changes to project deadlines.


2. Don’t waste your energy complaining to others about the bad behaviour – unless they can influence the situation and you are asking them for help. Gossiping or whinging might feel good for a moment or two, but without the discipline of switching to a solution-focus, can quickly become draining and counter-productive.


3. Remind yourself about the person’s positive behaviours and characteristics – this helps put the behaviour that bothers you in perspective, and stops it defining your entire perception of them as person. It also helps put you in the best emotional state for tackling the problem in a way that achieves the best outcome.


4. Talk to them – be clear about the behaviour that’s concerning you, and explain the impact on you and others (the team, clients, the organisation, the family….). Most people will respond quite reasonably once they’re aware of how their behaviour is impacting on others.


5. Ask for the behaviour you would like to see – be specific, see if you can make an agreement with them, and get their commitment to the agreement. Talk about consequences if they can’t (or won’t) commit to the desired behaviour.

6. Be prepared to hold the person to account for the agreement you’ve made – when you see behaviour that’s different to what you’ve agreed, you need to call that behaviour – at the time, or as close to the time as possible, not 12 months down the track at the annual performance review.


7. Follow through on consequences if the behaviour doesn’t change – if you back down at this point you send mixed messages, and it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to influence the behaviour in the future.


8 Notice when positive changes do occur – even small changes in the right direction should be acknowledged, which reinforces the desired behaviour and also helps maintain a positive climate in which people can succeed.


9. Remember the serenity prayer – influence what you can, accept what you can’t and know the difference. This may not apply if you’re a manager with responsibility for managing under-performance or addressing misconduct, but in other contexts, if you’re not in a position to influence change, you may have to resolve to accept the other persons’ behaviour. Otherwise you risk a life sentence of frustration and angst over something that’s never going to change.


10. Know where to draw the line – behaviour that’s illegal, such as bullying, harassment discrimination or victimisation must be dealt with, so if you’re having difficulty knowing how to respond, and whether you need to take more formal action, get some help from your manager, a coach  or your HR team.