Category Archives: Disruptive Behavior

Disruptive Behavior: Improve the ProcessPosted on January 30, 2011

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? Thankfully, this is not a process that leaders use every day. When disruptive behavior erupts, everyone hopes to deal with it quickly and forget it as soon as possible. Taking additional time to reflect on how the process might be improved during times of such discomfort is the last thing most leaders want to do. But no significant improvement occurs without some discomfort. What is the case for doing it anyway? Processes can almost always be improved, but the opportunities for improvement are only apparent when the process is tested in the real world. No matter how well thought out, processes usually reveal some flaws when they are actually used. This is particularly true when processes are used infrequently. How can you do it? 1. Bring the participants together as soon as the process is complete. If you put this off, memories will fade and motivation will wither. The stakeholders will have limited interest immediately after this trying experience is over, but they will have zero interest three days later. 2. Include the person who was accused of behaving badly. He may decline to participate. He may be sarcastic or snide. But he may offer a helpful perspective in spite of his natural unpleasantness. Such people are hard to take seriously, but their ideas often have real merit. 3. Revise the process and document the changes if the suggestions make sense. If you put it off, you will likely forget this annoying task. When the next eruption occurs, you will be faced with the same flawed process again. How have you improved your disruptive behavior process over time?

Disruptive Behavior: Remove Repeat OffendersPosted on January 23, 2011

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? It is never easy to fire people. It shouldn’t be. A firing means your employee selection process needs some work. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and most people who behave disruptively possess strengths you will hate to see walk out the door. You strive to see the best in others, and you want to make sure you have given them a reasonable opportunity to succeed. But the best leaders face reality and act on it. They don’t put off the inevitable until permanent damage is done. What is the case for doing it anyway? Your most solemn obligation as an organizational leader is to field the best-possible team. This means that you must carefully assess the strengths and weaknesses of everyone who reports to you and decide whether they are net-positive or net-negative. Net-negative people who have no reasonable chance of turning net-positive have to go. Because of the damage that disruptive behavior causes to staff morale, people who engage in a pattern of disruptive behavior are usually net-negative no matter what other assets they possess. How can you do it? 1. Make the commitment. Make it clear that you will do what it takes to produce results. Communicate this regularly to your colleagues 2. Follow through on your commitment. Until people see you act on your commitment in spite of the temporary pain it causes you and the organization, they will see your position as just so much talk. 3. Advise transgressors that disruptive behavior is a potential career-ending move. Provide a written notice that any further outbursts will result in the appropriate administrative action—including possible termination—as an integral part of your process. This sends a strong but necessary signal to everyone and provides the documentation you will need if litigation eventually ensues. How do you remove those with recurring patterns of disruptive behavior from your organization?

Disruptive Behavior: React ConsistentlyPosted on January 16, 2011

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? We all show up for work every day looking forward to doing pleasant stuff and hoping to avoid unpleasant stuff. Leaders are no different. Dealing with disruptive behavior is unpleasant. We want to put it off. It upsets us. We are inclined to react out of anger. Since dealing with disruptive behavior is not an everyday occurrence, we are not practiced in responding routinely. Human beings are impulsive animals and our impulses get us into a lot of trouble. What is the case for doing it anyway? You will be more likely to achieve the results you want by following a consistent process. You will be less likely react impulsively. Everyone involved will react more predictably if they know exactly what to expect. And over time the incidents of disruptive behavior will decrease if your process is accepted as the way things are done in your organization. That’s the point, isn’t it? How can you do it? 1. Keep your written process within easy reach. Maintaining the most recent version on your company’s Intranet site assures that the process is quickly accessible to anyone who needs to use it. 2. When something happens, ask the leader involved if she has followed the process so far. Perhaps she has forgotten a step. Your question will remind everyone involved that you intend to react consistently in such situations. 3. Distribute a copy of the process to everyone involved. Sending out an email or hard copy not only reminds everyone what will happen next, but it also documents your current expectations and enhances organizational transparency—always a good thing. How have you persuaded the leaders in your organization to deal with disruptive behavior consistently?

Disruptive Behavior: Publicize the ProcessPosted on January 9, 2011

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? Many leaders will be reluctant to publicize a disruptive behavior process. Some will suspect that the resulting constraint will cramp their own freewheeling management style. Other leaders have been disruptive in the past and they will not want to be held accountable. The people who misbehave are often powerful and valued for their special skills. Timid leaders will not want to offend these special people by communicating a process that is so obviously a result of previous bigwig misbehavior. What is the case for doing it anyway? Your failure to publicize a disruptive behavior process sends a strong signal. You either do not recognize the problem or you are unwilling or unable to deal with it. The lack of an accepted process means that each incident will be handled by the seat of someone’s pants—never the preferred leadership approach. Publicizing the process faces up to the problem and gives leaders a chance to clarify their expectations. It also gives fair warning to potential transgressors. How can you do it? 1. Design the process. Keep it simple. Make sure the process is fair. Be sure to involve the people who will be administering the process in the design phase. Involve human resources to make sure that your process will pass legal muster. 2. Circulate a draft and invite commentary from all stakeholders. Everyone appreciates an opportunity to be involved. Some good ideas will likely appear. Even the people who have behaved badly may reveal the weaknesses in the draft process. 3. Publicize the process as soon as you’ve approved it. Don’t wait for an incident to trigger the need for it. Make sure the process announcement is included in the appropriate meeting minutes so violators will not be able to claim ignorance. How have your publicized your disruptive behavior process?

Disruptive Behavior: Promote Realistic ExpectationsPosted on January 2, 2011

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? When leaders finally take a stand, they will comfort themselves for a time with the delusion that they have dealt with the disruptive behavior problem once and for all. Now that things are clear, everything will be fine. They want simple rules that are easy to understand, follow and administer. Leaders want things to be black and white.  Unfortunately, most of the world is gray. Gray is not easy to communicate. It is not easy to administer. What is the case for doing it anyway? Insist on reasonableness. In an atmosphere of cultural diversity, peaceful coexistence is not possible without some tolerance and understanding. We all have bad days. We are all moody at times. The goal is to cut everyone some slack, just not too much. If not recognized and confronted, inflexibility and mindless decision making will corrupt your behavioral management process. How can you do it? 1. Confront unreasonableness immediately. When an employee reports that a colleague disagreed with him in a meeting and proceeds to file a disruptive behavior complaint as a result, remind the offended colleague that people are entitled to disagree. So long as people are stating their positions appropriately, hurt feelings are the owner’s responsibility. 2. Don’t jump to conclusions. Focus on your investigation. Listen to everyone’s side. Allow some time for tempers to cool. Insist on fairness. 3. Inform everyone that your response will be proportionate. Minor infractions will not be treated as major offenses. Patterns of behavior will be viewed more seriously than isolated incidents. Serious misbehaviors demand serious responses. Make it clear that leaders have broad discretionary powers in  such situations and that they will use their discretion. How do you promote realistic expectations about unpleasant behavior in your workplace?

Disruptive Behavior: Attach Unpleasant ConsequencesPosted on December 26, 2010

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? Attaching unpleasant consequences to unpleasant behavior is unpleasant for the leader who attaches them. No one enjoys confronting a colleague, even one who has behaved badly. And colleagues who have behaved badly in the past are likely to behave badly again. Leaders are tempted to put the whole unpleasant mess out of their minds. Moreover, leaders are always amazed at the reluctance of victims to stand up for themselves and document exactly what happened. People are eager to complain, but they are hesitant to do anything more than that. What is the case for doing it anyway? People who misbehave in the workplace are defective. They have failed to develop the internal controls that normal people acquire. They require adult supervision. Failure to attach unpleasant consequences when they vent their immature spleens invites them to behave even worse the next time they are  annoyed. And your colleagues are watching you closely. If you fail to respond appropriately your credibility as a leader will suffer. How can you do it? 1. Complete your investigation promptly. Talk to everyone who was present and obtain the dispassionate documentation that will enable you to hold the perpetrator accountable. 2. Confront the accused with the evidence promptly. It is only fair that she be able to see and challenge others’ accounts of what happened. If the documentation is detailed, objective and complete that compelling evidence will trigger unpleasant shame and embarrassment. 3. Place the investigation and your conclusion in a permanent file. Be sure to include the accused person’s comments. His rebuttal will demonstrate his innocence and support your conclusion that no inappropriate behavior occurred on those rare occasions when a colleague just overreacts. Most of the time, his weak, defensive excuses will confirm his quilt and unreasonableness. Rarely, those who misbehave will take full responsibility, apologize and make amends. While this is temporarily unpleasant for the wrongdoer, it is the best possible outcome after an outburst has occurred. 4. When a pattern of misbehavior is evident, take the appropriate administrative action. This may include removing your colleague from the organization. Capable leaders do not permit disruptive people to poison the atmosphere for everyone else. When the best employees conclude that bad behavior will not result in adverse consequences for the tyrant, they will leave for greener employment pastures. How do you attach unpleasant consequences to disruptive behavior in your organization?

Disruptive Behavior: Respond Quickly but DeliberatelyPosted on December 19, 2010

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? Once the disruptive tempest subsides, you will be inclined to do nothing, to pretend to yourself and others that it never happened. If it is hard to tolerate temper tantrums, it is even harder to respond to them appropriately. Interviewing witnesses, accepting their feelings and challenging their unrealistic expectations consumes energy you would rather spend doing less unpleasant things. And confronting the perpetrators and listening dispassionately to their ridiculous rationalizations is never easy. What is the case for doing it anyway? Disruptive behavior should trigger appropriate consequences. Doing nothing and hoping that another such outburst will never occur sends exactly the wrong signal to everyone. Being passive suggests the tantrum was justified. It lowers the bar for such behavior in the future and invites other immature brats to behave in the same way. Likewise, an impulsive and angry response by the leader invites a credible challenge from the bad actor, and successfully shifts the attention from the bad behavior to the bad leadership response.  How can you do it? 1. Launch a formal investigation right away. Notify everyone involved that you will be talking with them. Complete your investigation as soon as the initial wave of feelings has crested. Your deliberate approach will create a helpful sense of foreboding and reflection. 2. Produce careful documentation. Invite the bystanders to write down what they observed. Many will be hesitant to do that. If they hesitate, interview them with a witness and record what they say. 3. Present the accused with the documentation and invite her response. It is only fair that the accused should have a chance to respond to you, but do not allow her to badger the witnesses or to intimate them into changing their stories. 4. Make a decision and announce it to everyone. Your conclusion and your documentation of it in the misbehaver’s personnel file will attach a significant unpleasant consequence to her outburst. Depending on the severity of the infraction, additional administrative punishment may be warranted. 5. Welcome an appeal. This step helps to assure fairness and dispassionate reflection. It also legitimizes the investigation process and identifies opportunities for improvement. Do not permit appeals to go on forever. This flaw delays a final resolution  and provides the opportunity for a wimpy leader far removed to cravenly conclude that what happened wasn’t that big a deal after all. How do you respond when disruptive behavior occurs in your organization?

Disruptive Behavior: Manage the OutburstPosted on December 12, 2010

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? People in the middle of a meltdown are not reasonable. Their feelings are all that matter to them. They intend to vent their spleens no matter what the consequences to others, and they intend to do it here and now. Spoiled children of all ages are indifferent to the needs of others. They just want their way. They don’t want to be challenged or contained. What is the case for doing it anyway? The longer these outbursts continue the more irreparable damage results. Victims and bystanders find such intentional attacks expecially hurtful, and they will not recover from these painful wounds quickly. The emotional scars will last even longer. And if leaders passively stand by and let these outbreaks run their course, those affected will feel both helpless and resentful. Allowing tantrums run their course in the workplace only encourages the tyrants. How can you do it? 1. Invite the troublemaker off stage. Invite the angry colleague to join you in a private office to discuss the matter further. Point out that this is not the best place to express such feelings. 2. Challenge the tyrant to control himself. Saying, “Please calm yourself  NOW,” will give sufficient notice to some firebrands that their behavior is inappropriate and, if not quickly smothered, will result in unpleasant consequences. 3. Call for backup. Most bullies are reluctant to show themselves when the boss is around. If the most appropriate boss is not available, any boss with do in a pinch. If the person throwing the tantrum is the boss, call  a bigger boss. If you feel threatened, call security. 4. Begin taking notes. This action will surprise the tormentors. They expect those nearby to be intimidated, to cower and to feel that they have done something to justify the tantrum. The unexpected presence of an objective note taker who is documenting the unacceptable behavior confirms that the situation has just changed. The power has shifted from the provocateur to the observer. The bad actor is now being held accountable. 5. Pointedly ask witnesses to pay attention to what is happening. This is another way of dramatically shifting the balance of power away from the person throwing a fit. The hapless bystanders have now become witnesses. That realization will deny many emotional fires the oxygen they need to keep burning. How do you manage temper tantrums in your workplace?

Disruptive Behavior: Prevent Disruptive BehaviorPosted on December 5, 2010

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? While it is not possible to entirely prevent disruptive behavior in the workplace, it is possible to create an organizational culture that strongly discourages it. Creating and sustaining such a culture requires leaders to invest a lot of energy in this issue over many years. It is not possible to build such a culture when leaders turn over every three years. As new leaders join the organization, many of them will have come from companies where important people are expected to throw their weight around. And if senior leaders are bullies themselves—and there are a lot of executive bullies in the world—they are not going to be passionate about creating bullying-free organizational cultures. What is the case for doing it anyway? There is always an executive around who understands the damage that disruptive behavior causes. That executive must take a stand. If any leader makes a compelling case and drafts a reasonable process, even the most derelict senior leaders will be forced to go along out of the fear of appearing completely stupid. It is not possible to make a reasonable case that allowing disruptive behavior to occur without consequences is best for any organization. It is always best if the entire senior leadership group is united in these matters, but it is not essential. You can persuade your wimpy executives to do the right thing, and you must. How can you do it? 1. Address the issue during recruitment, when the offer is made and again during orientation. Make this a part of the pre-application process for every position in the organization. 2. Require each employee to agree to abide by your organization’s Code of Conduct. Insist on a signed acknowledgement that they have read the document, that they understand it and that they agree to behave accordingly. 3. Confront those who misbehave immediately. Don’t let these issues fester. Follow up on complaints quickly. Remind the offender of his prior commitment. Begin documenting his disruptive behavior and advise him that further outbursts will trigger unpleasant consequences. 4. Require your senior leaders to walk the talk. Only the board can deal effectively with a disruptive CEO. Given that most board members are primarily interested in keeping their seats and therefore disinclined to rock the CEO’s boat, reluctant trustees must sometimes be goaded into doing their jobs with evidence that cannot be ignored. What do you do to prevent disruptive behavior in your work environment?

Disruptive Behavior: Pay Special Attention to BullyingPosted on November 28, 2010

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D. Why are leaders hesitant to do this? No leader wants to admit that she has a bullying problem. Since bullies are cowards by nature, they almost never bully others when leaders are around. This means that most descriptions of bullying behavior come second hand. This raises all the thorny issues of what really happened, what was meant and what was perceived. Excessive sensitivity does exist and overreactions are fairly common too. False accusations do occur. No leader leaves for work hoping to confront a bully later in the day. Why should you do it anyway? The real bullies are not hard to identify. Everyone knows who they are. They engage in a pattern of bullying behavior and sooner or later there will always be witnesses. The aggravation involved in investigating complaints, identifying bullies and standing up to them is much less than the damage these predators will do to morale if you allow them to prey on the vulnerable people in your organization. How can you do it? 1. Admit that bullying is a problem in most organizations. The data about the extent of the bullying problem in our workplaces and the damage it causes are clear. Share that data with your colleagues. 2. Give some examples of what bullying is and is not. Bullying is intimidating behavior intended to demean or embarrass the victim. Disagreeing respectfully is not bullying. Standing up for oneself is not bullying. Stating one’s position good naturedly and clarifying one’s expectations are not bullying. 3. Emphasize that bullying is not acceptable. Just making it clear that you will not tolerate  intimidation in the workplace will go a long way toward addressing this problem. 4. Agree that standing up to bullies is not easy. You must accept others’ feelings if you hope to persuade them. People hate conflict. People feel that complaining about bullies will only make matters worse. People fear that even if they complain their leaders will do nothing. Acknowledge and accept the reasonableness of these feelings. 5. Explain how you will handle complaints about bullies. Go over the investigation and follow up process. Explain what you will and will not make public. Make it clear that, except in extreme situations, you will give bullies the opportunity to improve their behavior. 6. Follow through. Do what you say you will do. Do it when you say you will. How do you deal with bullies in your workplace?

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