The Gift of Bad Behaviour

Late last year I read an article that talked about the new focus leaders need to have in this fast paced world. I really enjoyed it, as it resonated so much with my beliefs and the work I do coaching leaders and teams in new ways of working.

There were a number of comments agreeing and complimenting the author for their thoughts. One piece of positive feedback came from someone I know to be almost the opposite of everything the author described. My experience of them is as a controlling, unempathetic and inflexible person. There was a part of me that thought “how can they say that when they are so NOT that?” (shakes fist at the sky).

But it got me thinking… Am I always living the mindset and values I coach and train in others? ALWAYS? Or are there times when I could come across to others as inflexible/judgemental/controlling (insert opposite word of all the things I value).

It can be easy to be critical of someone else based on my experience of them. It can be more difficult to apply some self-directed critical thought. What might it look like if I turned this around? Made it a mirror rather than a window?

Turn the mirror on bad behaviour

Why do this? Well, there is absolutely nothing I can do about someone else’s behaviour. Shaking my fist at the sky does very little apart from from express how I feel (and possibly contribute towards my daily step goal depending on which fist I choose to shake…). And you know what, there are probably other reasons, but I think this reason is enough to seriously consider options, don’t you?

As many of you know, I am a passionate believer in:

  • Collaboration and transparency
  • Connection with others
  • Continuous learning
  • Flexibility
  • Keeping lists as short as possible

So if I believe that collaboration and transparency are so important, can I honestly say that I live that belief 100%? Have there been times when I have not collaborated when I could have, or kept work to myself instead of sharing with others? Held a draft for a bit long as “it’s still a bit ‘drafty’”?

If I believe in making true connection with others, have there been times I have chosen to pull out my laptop in a meeting under the guise of productivity, but inadvertently created a barrier? Then possibly have gotten distracted by an alert not relevant to the meeting I was in? Or prioritised finishing a document over having an important conversation with someone I care about?

I am a passionate life-long learner, but have there been times when I have chosen to go with the way I’ve always done something rather than put in the effort to learn something new, or embrace a different approach?

I believe in behavioural flexibility, but have I been as flexible as I could have been when taking on critical feedback? Or considering other options to move forward on a difficult task?

The answer to all of the above is absolutely yes. Possibly preceded with an awkward silence and a bit of fidgeting…

It can be easy to point out how others aren’t embodying the values they need to, working in the way they should or doing things in an ‘Agile’ way. Indeed in one of my training programs, I play a video about Above and Below the Line behaviour. Many watch it and immediately think of how others behave. Many watch it and think about times they could have behaved better. What is more helpful? It’s the behaviour you can control – our own.

What’s even more confronting is that when we see things in others that cause us to shake said fist, not only is there nothing we can do about it, but the only reason why we’ve noticed it is that it’s present in ourselves. So no amount of fist shaking is going to have any effect unless we’re prepared to look inward and take action.

So I got curious about how these behaviours showed up, forgave myself for being human, and thought about how I might behave differently in the future.

Focus on You

The truth is no matter how passionate we are, and determined we are to live a life aligned to our values, we’re never 100% there. Which isn’t bad – values should be a bit aspirational, and feel hard at times to live up to. But we’re all work in progress, right? Which means rather than spending precious energy on criticising others (glass houses and stones and all that), we can use that energy more efficiently to look at ourselves, and see it as an opportunity to improve. The gift of noticing bad behaviour in others is that you are really noticing what might be present in you and may need some attention. So go ahead and notice that behaviour – get a bit critical, then use what you observe to change  yourself. Because that is where the biggest ONLY difference can be made.

What did I change? I identified a number of specific times where, in hindsight, I was not living aligned with my values. I reflected on how I could have behaved better in those moments, and visualised a ‘redo’ of the events, this time around behaving differently. I made a commitment to be more attuned to my own behaviour and take steps to change it in the moment. For me these steps are:

  • Putting away my laptop or phone (if out)
  • Actively listening, including taking notes to refer back to
  • Being more curious, asking more questions (even when I’m sure I have The Answer!)
  • Pausing more often to reflect

Small steps but they’re making a difference. And you know what, I’ve not noticed others’ ‘bad behaviour’ as much. Who would have thought???



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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.