Labels! – It is a very common habit that most of us demonstrate – the need to use labels to describe others’ behaviour. Maybe it goes back to our primeval instincts which prompt the question; “who is lunch, me or them?”
Whatever the cause, we are generally happier if we can put others in some kind of a category.
The danger of doing so when working with, in this instance, ‘a disruptor’ is that this will negatively influence our approach – we will begin by labelling the person, not addressing the behaviour. So maybe this article should rather be about coaching those who exhibit disruptive behaviours.
So what are some examples of typical disruptive behaviours found in the workplace? Here are a few:
• Arriving late for meetings, making big commotion and giving “reasons” for lateness.
• Being aggressively negative to other’s ideas with phrases like “It will never work.”
• Whispering constantly to neighbour in a meeting, breaking the concentration of others.
• Dominating a conversation by talking too much.
• Interrupting others before they have finished speaking.
• Volunteering for tasks, and then failing to deliver on time.
• Losing one’s temper frequently; exhibiting severe mood swings.
In many of these examples, it is quite likely that if tackled, the person who used this behaviour will have a very rational explanation for why they felt that they were acting appropriately in the circumstances. So, a starting point to helping them use a different approach is not to tackle their rationalisation, but rather re-visit the situation, and look at different options.
It is important to begin from the standpoint that the individual concerned was well-intentioned. So what were their intentions? Once these have been clarified, can they be re-defined as a desired outcome? The next step can be to develop options (including the behaviour already used) which might be used to achieve the outcome. After that, look at the potential impact each option may have on those who are exposed to it. Finally, considering the consequences (both long and short term) make a determination of the most appropriate behaviour to achieve the outcome with the minimal negative consequences.
You will notice that the approach in the last paragraph does not mention trying to understand why someone chooses to use disruptive behaviour. It is aimed solely on trying to get them to practice ‘mindfulness in the moment’, and to be intentional about how they behave by keeping their desired outcome in focus. In this way, they will be less likely to behave in a disruptive manner.
However, other behaviours – losing one’s temper is a prime example – need a different approach. However, this can still be a coaching approach, rather than a psycho- therapeutic one. If possible, try to identify the triggers which stimulate temper loss, then work on eliminating them. For instance, what often happens is that someone breaks one of ‘our rules’ which we all have, based on our values and life experiences. However, it is not necessarily one of their rules. The more we are able to share our thoughts and aspirations openly with others, the better they will understand us, and the less likely they are to break our rules!
In addition to identifying triggers, it should be possible to have a discussion around the negative effects of disruptive behaviours, and the additional effort required to restore normality afterwards.
The only person we can change is ourselves, but it takes courage sometimes to experiment with our behaviour to learn how we can achieve our goals more effectively.
Andy Johnson is a Partner at Change Partners.