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Leadership, Drama and Bad Behavior at Work

Work can be a playground - it can be fun and invigorating with lots of focused synergy.

But it can also offer a setting for dramatic reenactments of bad behavior witnessed on the playground - bullying, whining, yelling, teasing, acting out, tantrums, disrespect, tattling, etc.

These behaviors often occur behind the scenes - and a leader might hear about it third hand without ever witnessing the actual behavior - but it only takes one non-productive member to impact a work environment and throw a team off of a productive track.

Take these examples.

Scott gets all his work done on time and with a high degree of accuracy but says things to other team members that are thoughtless (at best) and downright mean (at worst). Doris is a young up-and-comer who has been heard tattling and spreading rumors. Coworkers are dismayed that she seems to have the ear of organizational leaders. Justin seems to have a talent for “stirring the pot” and excuses his blunt behavior with statements like, “I tell it like it is.” Selina has been accused of stealing ideas and taking credit for the work of others. Real or imagined? Either way, coworkers have stopped talking to her.

In each of these examples, the comments and behaviors of employees has become a focus of side conversations which serve to distract team members from spending time on generating new ideas and fulfilling the mission of the organization.

Performance Issues and Behavior Issues

How is it that non-productive behaviors creep into our work environments?

In part, it’s because expectations for communication behavior are often not as clearly stated as expectations for work performance.

Performance expectations are often outlined in job responsibilities, expectations and productivity milestones. As a result, performance issues can be easier to detect and address.

Behavior expectations are often stated less specifically - there might be a general statement about “communicating well with others,” but what we mean by that is often not written out. When it comes time to evaluate an employee’s performance, this lack of clarity leaves leaders out on a limb without a reference point.

So what’s a leader to do?

9 Strategies for Dealing with Bad Behavior

Individual behavior change is one of the most difficult and complex types of change but recognizing, documenting and dealing with recurring, nonproductive behavior patterns is important to a healthy work environment.

With that in mind, let’s imagine the possibilities to move behavior issues from stuck to unstuck. Here are nine possibilities to inspire your thinking.

(1) Ignore Behavior

This is a viable and often recommended parenting strategy; it is tempting to employ it in leadership settings. Quite frankly, it is easier to ignore some things than deal with them. Sometimes, this is a good decision. And, it is important to note that while it is not always the best option, ignoring the behavior is one viable option.

(2) Focus on Patterns

Is the bad behavior a one-time event or does the behavior represent a recurring, non-productive pattern? If you see a pattern developing, you will want to prepare yourself to address it.

(3) Focus on Facts

If you have identified a recurring, non-productive behavior pattern, collect and document the facts. Focus on what you have seen and heard and avoid hearsay. Once a problem comes to your attention, tune in and, literally, take note.

(4) Deal with It Head On

Identify the problem behavior and proactively nip it in the bud. Seek training and/or coaching, if needed, so that you feel confident in approaching these coaching conversations in a way that builds positive results. One helpful and classic resource is the Feedback Formula. Practice utilizing it often and in many settings - with children, significant others, employees and coworkers.

(5) Don’t Participate in the Gossip Chain

As a leader, you want to be plugged into the dynamic of the group but remember that participation in gossip is a form of endorsement. Avoid in engaging in repetitive conversations with the same person about another person. If you hear yourself engaging in the same conversation again and again, change the focus and help the employee find solutions.

(6) Encourage Employees to Solve Interpersonal Issues

Encourage employees to work with one another to address and solve interpersonal issues. You may offer training and/or coaching to equip employees to have these conversations with one another. Contact us and let us know how we can help.

(7) Make Positive Behavior a Job Responsibility - Quantify It

Be sure that expectations about behavior and communication are clearly stated. Let the team know how you expect them to behave - behavior is part of performance. Better yet - have the team create a “team charter” that expresses their commitments about behavior. Their participation in the process will help shape a positive culture.

(8) Express Positive Expectations to the Team

It never hurts to reiterate positive expectations in a positive way. Set aside 5-10 minutes at your next team meeting to talk about communication. Facilitate a brainstorming session about “what’s working” and “what’s not working” to start a discussion on communication. Make it fun. Show a humorous video - visit Refreshment Zone on Pinterest where we post a number of meeting resources that can be utilized for this purpose.

(9) Model Self-Awareness and Appropriate Behavior

Sometimes it’s easier to be a group member than a leader but remember that you are the role model. We all slip into nonproductive behaviors now and then. Recognize and apologize when stress, deadlines and distractions result in poor communication on your part. Make sure your own words and actions reflect the types of behaviors you’d like to see from team members.

Healthy work environments are built on productive and positive communication and addressing bad behavior at work can remove distraction and refocus attention on the mission and vision of the organization. It’s never too late to reset a team work environment.

Work can be a playground - as a leader, you can work with you team to shape an environment that is fun and invigorating with lots of focused synergy. That’s goal.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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