Confront Negative Behaviors

This post is republished from a newsletter I used to write.

“Problems in the workplace are often created not by what we do, but by what we fail to do.”

– Aubrey C. Daniels – Bringing Out the Best in People

“All problems become smaller if you don’t dodge them, but confront them.”

– William F. Halsey

Once again, I am building on an idea from a previous article. Develop a “we” focus and not a “me” focus. (view last month’s article)

At the close of last month’s article, I mentioned that developing a “we” focus begged the question: How does this apply to team members who don’t want to play nice? The short answer is this month’s tip. Failure to confront a negative behavior is a subtle acceptance of it – an encouragement for it to continue in the future.

As you read much of what I write, you probably see that I prefer encouraging good behaviors to punishing bad ones. Encouragement is more comfortable to me – and therein lays the problem. Encouragement is more comfortable to me. Behavioral analysts find that high-level performance comes from the effective use of positive reinforcement. However, we all know that some unacceptable behaviors will happen. When they do, it is the leader’s responsibility to step in and address them.

For about 10 or 20 per cent of the population, this month’s tip seems like a no-brainer. Confrontation is not uncomfortable for you. You do it naturally. Because it comes naturally, you may be highly skilled at addressing problems directly. However, the rest of us feel some stress and discomfort when conflict arises. I happen to be a person who would prefer to avoid conflict if possible, so I don’t offer this month’s tip glibly. I offer it as a lesson from mistakes I have made in the past.

My desire for peace and harmony sometimes stops me from quickly confronting negative behaviors. The paradox is that, as the leader of a team, if I do not address negative behaviors, I will get more of them. And, in the end, I will have less peace and harmony. In order to get what I do want, I have to do what I don’t want to do. In fact, if I avoid the conflict only because the conflict is uncomfortable to me, I am working from a “me” focus – contrary to my tip from last month.

A word of caution – I am not suggesting public humiliation for people who act in offending ways. I am suggesting that leaders confront negative behaviors before they hurt team performance – not after.

I am sure that you have a list of negative behaviors you have seen in the workplace. Here is a partial list of some behaviors/issues I have had to address:

  • Interrupting meetings
  • Supervisors treating employees poorly
  • Employees verbally attacking each other
  • Lack of preparedness for meetings
  • Extreme body odor
  • Lack of attention in meetings
  • Too many personal phone calls at work
  • And many others.

To help people who, like me, would rather avoid a confrontation, I offer these suggestions to ease the stress:

Be prepared – Pre-plan what you intend to say. In most situations, I don’t suggest that you read a prepared statement. However, you should be prepared.

Be brief – Get to the point quickly, and stay on topic. You will find it easier to be brief if you prepare in advance.

Be specific – Make sure you speak about specific behaviors, and not your interpretations.

Here are some examples:

Rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, arrogant, obnoxious, flighty, unfocused, smart aleck, and pushy are interpretations.

Interrupting, rolling eyes, speaking loudly (or softly), shrugging shoulders, looking away, walking away, and tone of voice are specific behaviors.

Explain the impact – Tell the person how other people perceive their behavior or how it affects team performance.

State the desired alternative – Go beyond a description of the negative behavior to describe what you expect in the future. By stating the desired positive behavior, you can use positive reinforcement rather than punishment to drive performance in the future.

Stay calm – The behavior may frustrate you, but now is not the time to vent on people. You want them to focus on your message and their behavior, not your frustration or anger.

So for now, I encourage you to remember this month’s tip . . .

Confront negative behaviors.


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