How to Reduce Your Coworkers’ Undesirable Behaviors


What’s Your Role in This?

Higher ed. leaders work with hundreds of people on their campuses and sooner or later, will find themselves annoyed by someone’s behavior. Can you relate? There is the person who talks too much, the one who emails you too often, the one who makes excuses, or the one who runs everything by you. Sigh… You observe the behaviors feeling powerless, because you can’t change these people.

While it is true you cannot change who someone else is, I very strongly encourage you to observe what part you play knowingly or unknowingly, in their behavior. Keep in mind there is always a reason for people’s actions. In most cases, people who exhibit undesirable behaviors do so because they are rewarded for it. If you take away the reward, the behavior subsides.

If you think your only option is to be punitive, think again! Start by no longer rewarding undesirable behavior, and you will positively affect your co-workers and covertly help them become better professionals.

How to Stop Rewarding Undesirable Behavior

Ask yourself what is the payoff or reward. Here are some examples of what you can do in particular situations.

Example 1: Someone runs everything by you

You want your team members to develop confidence and learn to work more independently. You understand the importance of being accessible and providing training so you let people ask you as many questions as they want, as often as they want, and it’s taking far too much of your time.

In that scenario, you may think you are helping someone learn while in fact, the message you send is “I am the decision maker and I don’t trust you to take care of this independently.” If you serve all the answers on a silver platter instead of helping your staff members think for themselves, you become a crutch. Instead, help them develop their own muscles (critical thinking, problem solving, and confidence) rather than put their weight on you indefinitely.

So if you think someone is high maintenance or insecure, look at how you are enabling and rewarding the behavior, and make some changes!

Example 2: Someone makes excuses

Someone on your team doesn’t take responsibility for her work and makes excuses when something goes wrong. It is so ridiculous that you can’t even take that person seriously. She did prepare the report you asked for but her dog ate it? Seriously? How do you even handle such a surreal conversation? You might give up on her and not even attempt to keep her accountable. She becomes someone on your payroll that doesn’t bring much value to your department.

While I understand how frustrating it is to deal with someone like that, I encourage you to realize that your fear of confrontation or your lack of confidence in your ability to make her do a better job has become the reason she continues. She takes no responsibility and gets away with it. The more outrageous her attitude is, the more she will be left alone and won’t have to make any efforts.

Here again, I am not suggesting you become punitive but simply that you take away the reward. Ask her questions and without being confrontational, make it much harder for her to avoid speaking with you. If not taking responsibility means she will have to explain herself, she won’t do it as often.

Example 3: Someone takes too much of your time

You have this person on your team who emails you too often, comes to see you for trivial reasons, and overstays her welcome. You allow the behavior because your intention is to be helpful and accessible. Maybe you also want to be liked and even though this relationship feels heavy, you want the person to continue to be a fan of yours. You don’t know how to tell her that she takes too much of your time so you say nothing.

The good news is that you don’t have to point fingers, tell her what she is doing wrong, or how you feel about it. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. You can simply stop rewarding the behavior. Clearly, the person wants attention beyond what is reasonable in this context. It means it is time for you to create healthy boundaries, and not just with this person.

Give yourself permission to wait to answer emails (or schedule them to be sent later) to discourage the back-and-forth exchange that eats up your day. Consider having your assistant ask people who show up without an appointment what they need, in order to discourage pointless visits and postpone those that are not time sensitive. When you meet with someone, realize that it is perfectly acceptable to stay focused on the issue at hand and not engage in small talk. You can also let someone know that you only have a few minutes or you need to work on a deadline. Your level of presence when you speak with someone is more important than the amount of time you give them.

If you would like to speak with me about how I can help you influence people on your campus for the greatest good, click here to schedule a complimentary call. What we tolerate continues. What we reward unintentionally, grows. You don’t have to accept the things that you have the power to transform. Let me show you how. 

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About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.