xxxvii) Bad Behaviours

When inappropriate behaviour is identified, it is usually not an isolated case. There is usually a whole range of other inappropriate behaviours happening; with early warning signs and with no innocent bystanders. Some suggestions on how to handle in appropriate behaviours include

"...keep your cool: don't react with anger, be specific when describing the offending situation and how it affects you, then try to get a conversation going about what the other person was thinking..."

Joe Moore is quoted by Rose-Anne Manns, 2010

. Not realising that allowing bad behaviours to occur creates an unfriendly workplace with a culture of fear and intimidation. Bad behaviours are interpersonal aggression, emotional abuse, abrasive supervision, petty tyranny, incivility, etc as shown by bullies, office psychopaths, narcissistic bosses, jerks, etc. and these have a negative impact on staff, with increased personnel turnover, absenteeism, decreased commitment to work, etc. It is usually "management by intimidation" with people focusing on protecting themselves from recrimination rather than on performance.

"...intimidating leaders often mistakenly believe their nastiness is the reason for their success, or erroneously think that methods that help them connive their way to the top of an organisation are also suitable to lead and manage that organisation..."

Robert Sutton as quoted by Fiona Smith, 2009q

Remember: bad behaviour can be subtle intimidation, such as deliberately including or excluding someone from activities (eg giving someone meaningless tasks unrelated to their job, deliberately changing work rosters to inconvenience co-workers, etc) to more aggressive tactics such as producing offensive e-mails, verbal abuse, etc

"...Research indicates that bullying costs Australian employees up to $36 billion in absenteeism, sick leave, productivity, staff turnover and legal costs..."

Annabel Hepworth, 2004a

Bad behaviour in the office is very different from how the movies portray office bullies and/or the manager who sometimes loses it. They are chameleons, ie the cunning ability to act perfectly normally and very charmingly while wreaking havoc around them. This has been described as "kiss-up, slap-down", ie

"...strategic use of anger and blame can push yourself up the hierarchy and knock others down.....strategic use of anger - outbursts, snarling expressions, staring straight ahead, and strong hand gestures like pointing and jabbing - creates the impression that the expresser is confident......more broadly, leadership research shows that subtle nasty moves like glaring and condescending comments, explicit moves like insults or putdowns, and even physical intimidation can be effective paths to power..."

Robert Sutton, 2007


Usually staff will spot the problem before management.

Sometimes staff will react to bad behaviour by "getting back on the jerk" by revenge, such as sabotaging work and even stealing

The impact of bad behaviour has an accumulative impact and ripple effects on other people, such as witnesses and bystanders who observe the interaction, and on the family of the victim. Furthermore,

"...nasty interactions have a far bigger impact on our moods than positive interactions - five times the punch......research in the United Kingdom found that more than one third of witnesses wanted to intervene to help victims but were afraid to do so. Bullies drive witnesses and bystanders out of their jobs, just as they do 'first hand' victims......about 25% of the bullied victims and about 20 percent of witnesses quit their jobs......demeaning jerks are victims of their own actions..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

The above turnover rate of 25% and 20% is compared with the typical rate of around 5%.

Furthermore, bad behaviours are infectious, ie if your boss shows bad behaviours then you are more likely to imitate. The more time you spend with nasty people, the more likely you are to behave like them.

An estimate from USA (Robert Sutton, 2007) suggests that bad behaviour can cost an organisation around $US 160,000 per year.

On the other hand, we don't want to encourage groupthink and/or frictionless/conflictless organisations - constructive and creative friction in an atmosphere of mutual respect results in development of ideas and performance. This has been called constructive confrontation. At the same time, if personal conflict dominates, creativity, performance and job satisfaction plummet

. Need to develop ways to handle the alpha males, office psychopaths, bullies, narcissistic managers, jerks, etc. Usually the offender is aiming his or her venom at people who are less powerful and/or targeted people who feel humiliated, belittled, oppressed, etc after their experience with the offender. Some suggestions for handling these situations include

i) confront the nasty person head-on. This approach is risky as it can be career changing and/or worsen the situation as it can engender more aggression. If you decide to use this approach, pick the right moment and be willing to take a chance.

ii) limit your exposure by physically escaping from the source of the stress

iii) change your mindset about what is happening to you, such as

- avoiding self-blame and perceiving yourself as a victim by seeing the bad behaviour as hypotheses rather than facts and develop a more optimistic framework for analysing the situation, ie realising that you are not the problem

- reframe the nastiness using techniques such as 'learned optimism' that re-focuses the nastiness as temporary and "not my fault" so that resilience is strengthened

- view the difficulties as temporary, ie do not allow the unpleasantness to pervade and ruin the other elements of your life

- focus on areas that you can control, such as

i) learning when and how to simply "don't give a damn" (self-preservation may require developing 'detached concern' as shown by indifference and emotional detachment or distancing from the bad behaviour and the organisation that allows it to occur).

ii) when meeting with a jerk, have stand-up meetings rather than sitting down, as the format as considerably shorter, ie by up to 30%.

iii) your response to jerks should be calm and respectful, including the use of non-aggressive language

- don't fight against forces you cannot control, such as expecting the bad behaviour to change

- create a "no jerk" rule and enforce it

- importance of small victories so that you feel in control and reduce the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness

- power can be a basis for bad behaviour, and pay is an important sign of power differences.

Need to reduce the pay differential between senior managers and staff, ie

"...power-performance paradox: they realize that the company has and should have a pecking order, but they do everything they can to downplay and reduce status and power differences among members..."

Robert Sutton, 2008

- train people in "constructive confrontation", ie how to approach people and problems positively so that people are arguing over ideas rather than personality or relationship issues; the latter is destructive confrontation.

- call their bluff (this is risky but effective if you feel that they are all puff)

Remember: the only thing worse than too much confrontation is no confrontation at all

NB These approaches should apply to all stakeholders, not just employees

On the other hand, having a "token jerk" in the organisation can be used to remind others how not to behave and the unpleasant consequences of that behaviour. Also, the jerks do have some upsides, eg ability to act decisively and to produce results.

Some additional steps handling bad behaviour

i) write the rule down about bad behaviour not being acceptable and enforce it

ii) keep the jerks away from the selection/recruitment procedures

iii) remove the 'permanent' jerks as quickly as possible

iv) treat badly behaved staff as incompetent employees

v) as power breeds nastiness, embrace the power-performance paradox (despite the need for a pecking order, do everything to downplay and reduce unnecessary status differences among members)

vi) mini-moments: not just focus on practices, policies and systems (effective management means focusing on and changing the little things that management and staff do)

vii) model and encourage constructive confrontation (argue around ideas rather than people and/or relationships)

viii) adopt a 'token' jerk as a negative role model

ix) link the policies with small decencies, ie how people interact

In summary,

"...It turns out that companies can gain a competitive advantage by giving their people personal respect, training them to be effective and humane managers, allowing them time and resources to take care of themselves and their families, using layoffs as a last resort, and making it safe to express concern, try new things, and talk openly about failures..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

"'d be surprised by how often controlling and intimidatory people actually change their approach over time when they encounter people who consistently respond to them with integrity..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

On the other hand, being too nice can encourage workplace conflict as people are too polite to tackle the issues they need to address. If this happens, the situation can become explosive and create more conflict than if the problem was tackled head-on

Need to understand that functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been used to study the brain's amygdales (there are 1 in each hemisphere and they are central to processing of emotion and empathy) of different types of people revealed

- the right amygdale of altruists were 8.1% larger than the control group; while psychopaths' right amygdale are smaller than those in the control group; yet everyone's left amygdale was about the same size

- this was supported by more research that showed more activity in the right amygdale of the altruists than those in the control groups, while psychopaths' right amygdale were less active than those in the control group; yet the left amygdale activity of these sub-groups showed no variation

"...Some biologists regard psychopathy as adaptive. They argue that if the psychopath can bully non-psychopaths into giving him what he wants, he will be at a reproductive advantage as long as most the population is not psychopathic. The genes underpinning psychopathy persist, though they can never become ubiquitous because psychopathy works only when there are non-psychopaths to prey on..."

The Economist, 2014k

· An alternative way that looking at this is to compare it with the way human height varies, ie being tall or short is not a specific adaptation but caused by unusual combinations of genes that govern height. Thus, psychopaths and extreme altruists may be the result of similar, rare, combinations of genes underpinning the more normal human propensity to be moderately altruistic.


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