How to address negative behaviours

Have you ever experienced a situation whilst in a management position where you have avoided a behaviour of one of your team members, only to have the problem come back and bite you later? In hindsight we often wish we had addressed these niggling unacceptable behaviours earlier and ‘nipped them in the bud’ before they grew and resulted in something bigger and uglier than they needed to be. It’s human nature to avoid conflict and as managers we are constantly coming across issues and challenges and are weighing up which battles to fight, and which to ignore, in the hope they will go away or not happen again.

Confirmation bias spells poor leadership

The problem here is that often those niggling behaviours that start as a minor irritation, result in the process of ‘confirmation bias’. The manager, once noticing the annoying behaviour, starts focussing on it more and more and starts filtering out the positive behaviours and actions. By the time the manager finally realises that he/ she needs to address the issue, it is often done in a way that is more judgemental and less positive than if it had been addressed much early on when first noticed. This can result in the individual feeling not only surprised that their behaviour is being judged so harshly, but quite deflated and often poorly treated or singled out. It can often become apparent to them that their positive behaviours have been ignored or neglected to be recognised, naturally making them feel under-valued. A fast track to a demotivated team member.

How to address unacceptable behaviours and stop them in their tracks

I advise my clients to never avoid those niggling behaviours and always address them when they are at the ‘thin end of the wedge’, before the behaviour becomes a pattern. After all, those behaviours we walk past, are the ones we accept. 

Let’s take the example of a staff member who starts coming in late and leaving early every day. You may notice it early on but think to yourself it may be a one-off and probably won’t continue. You don’t mention it. A couple of weeks pass, and you see other members of the team also notice and feel irritated; why should they get to arrive late and leave early, you hear them say. It starts causing some friction in the team. You start feeling more annoyed by it and, unbeknownst to you, you start neglecting to see the great sales results they have achieved this month, or the fact that they met their deadlines. These positives are over-shadowed by the more weighted negative behaviour. One day you are waiting on an urgent response from them, but notice they have chipped off early again. You are really annoyed now. You are certainly in a judgemental frame of mind and feel angry and very disappointed. You call a meeting with them for first thing in the morning to address this to let them know this pattern of behaviour is completely unacceptable. You are much more likely in this scenario, to be confrontational, judgemental and accusation and show your irritation. The offending party too, will sense the irritation and a negative spiral begins.

Rewind and imagine you call a catch-up meeting with the individual much earlier on in the process, at the thin end of the wedge, to address the issue. You are not really irritated or effected by the behaviour at this early point, but recognise you need to nip it in the bud. In this scenario, you are much more capable of having a non-judgemental conversation to let them know what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable.

So how can we practice this regularly? How do we have these conversations easily without feeling confrontational? The key here, is to focus on your relationships with your team. I often say to clients, if you can’t have the conversation, you are NOT in relationship with your team. By focussing on building good relations with your team, on engagement, open conversations, building good rapport, these conversations can happen freely and regularly and done in a positive way where no-one must feel singled out.

Secondly, establish baseline expectations with your team. Communicate well what behaviours are acceptable, and what aren’t to avoid them happening in the first place.

And thirdly, have exploratory conversations, not confrontations. And have these conversations as the negative behaviours arise, not when they have become bigger than Ben Hur. Exploratory conversations are done without judgement, they are about exploring behaviours that have not fallen in-line with the key message. The aim of the conversation is to find out what could be causing the behaviour and to make a list of the possible reasons., The more reasons you come up with, the less judgemental you become. You will then be inclined to approach the situation by asking questions, rather than making statements or accusations.

A good leader is acutely focussed on relationship building. Establishing a relationship of trust and honesty and open conversations in a positive light, always has good results.

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.

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