Dealing with Difficult Behaviour

You may have noticed that the story of Spain winning the Women’s World Cup was quickly overtaken by a story about how the Spanish female players feel they are treated, triggered by a specific event on the pitch.  In Spain, the story has grown into a major cultural turning point.

Let’s be honest, none of us behave perfectly all the time.   We are only human; we do not control our emotions and remain calm in all situations all day every day.  Occasional lapses of behaviour can be handled with a light touch where the team mostly work well together.    The challenge is when the ‘occasional lapse’ deteriorates to unhelpful (or worse) behaviour most of the time.  Knowing when to intervene is important.  And the answer is ‘earlier than you think’.   If behaviour is inappropriate, the sooner it is dealt with – which means the person exhibiting the unhelpful behaviour recognising the problem – the better.   The more you can prevent bigger behavioural issues developing, the easier your life will be.

The first challenge is to be honest with yourself:  are you part of the problem OR are you actually causing the problem?

Ask yourself:  have you given feedback on this matter before?  Have you ignored the problem hoping it will go away?

If you have ignored the problem, why?  Are you scared of the person?  Are you worried that saying something will make everything worse?  Delaying for these reasons will usually make the situation worse.  Planning your approach before having a conversation will almost certainly lead to you being in a better place, even if the world is not instantly perfect.

Think through all the possible outcomes of the situation, such as:

  • You do nothing and the behaviour improves – no more problems
  • You do nothing and things get a lot worse – perhaps some of your best team members start leaving
  • You have a conversation about behaviour and things improve
  • You have a conversation about behaviour and your colleague gets upset, leaving you feeling bad, and the behaviour is still not dealt with
  • You have a conversation about behaviour and your colleague tries to blame everyone else, refusing to acknowledge the negative impact they are having

There are many possible outcomes.  Try to develop at least six, including the outcome you most want, the outcome you most fear, and the outcome that seems the most likely.  Remember, a managed exit from a role can be a positive outcome for everyone, not a failure.

Choose the outcome you are going to aim for, given the context.  It’s important to plan the conversation, as behavioural matters can become emotional and you may touch on your colleague’s pride, ambition or fear, even if you don’t intend to.  Think about what you are going to say and run your plan past a trusted colleague or an HR professional.

Remember, doing nothing rarely solves the problem, and usually makes things worse for you, for the colleague and for the rest of the team.   Just look at what is happening in the world of Spanish Football now.


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