You Get the Behaviour You Tolerate

Here’s a scenario for you:

Taylor starts a new job and as part of orientation is tasked with meeting 1 on 1 with all members of the team to get to know them better.  One meeting is with a peer of Taylor’s supervisor, Pat, and in that meeting Taylor is told to “watch out for Pat’s mood swings” and is advised to not speak to Pat until at least 10 am after Pat has had at least two cups of coffee. Similar sentiments are repeated to Taylor by other members of the team – some are Pat’s subordinates, some Pat’s peers and one is even Pat’s superior who told Taylor that working for a tough boss was an opportunity to learn how to navigate difficult people.

Clearly Pat has some issues.  Unfortunately, so does Taylor now.

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While these team members were trying to be helpful with Taylor, what would have actually helped would be for them not to tolerate Pat’s unacceptable behaviour – Especially Pat’s boss but also the peers.  The trouble is we often don’t know what to say or how to stop such bad behaviour – especially once it becomes familiar.  At some point in time Pat behaved badly and no one said a word, so Pat got away with it, and since it worked once, Pat did it again and again until those around Pat were just used to the rudeness and disrespect and found ways to work around it.

The impact of this kind of toxicity in a workplace is well known. Those on the receiving end of bullying and disrespect experience poor concentration, lower levels of job satisfaction, mental illness, physical illness and shattered self-esteem and self-worth.  Organizations experience high turnover, increased absenteeism, decreased productivity and commitment, damaged reputation, difficulty in recruitment and very possibly significant legal costs. Even those bystanders feel the stress, anxiety, helplessness and fear from uncivil behaviours like Pat’s and they have higher turnover and increased absenteeism too.

Those in leadership and in other positions of power in an organization have an obligation to protect employees from people like Pat. You get the behaviour that you tolerate and you also have to pay the price for that behaviour.  Finding the words to stop Pat isn’t easy, it takes some serious courage, but e good news is that it is pretty simple.  You can try responding to a disrespectful comment (to yourself but especially when it’s directed at someone else) with something like: “Pat, that sounded a little harsh, is that what you intended?” or “Hmmmm, I’m not I sure I would have phrased that in that way.” Or “Pat, can we take this offline?” And then in private ask Pat what was intended by the comment.

Try practicing what you might say in advance of the next time a ‘Pat’ in your life is snarky or mean. If you have some phrases or lines ready to go in your head you’ll be much less likely to freeze or take flight – which only confirms to your ‘Pat’ that the behaviour is tolerable. And as we all know, it isn’t!