Bad behaviour is bad for business

Dawn Metcalfe details how to counteract bad behaviour in the workplace



Diversity is great. Today, everybody knows it. Study after study backs it up. Diverse workforces should be at the forefront of innovation, creativity, productivity and more.

But diversity only takes us so far. If inclusion isn’t front and centre of the conversation, organisations are missing out on the full potential of their workforce.

Why? Because diversity can make inclusion difficult – it can make us cautious. Too cautious to speak up. In fact, in research we carried out across the MENA region, 70 per cent of people when faced with conflict said they chose to ignore it. But in any environment – whether work or home – there are consequences to not speaking up. There is a direct impact on teams and individuals, which is bad for any organisation.

This lack of speaking up leads to bad behaviour in the workplace. The research also showed that 90 per cent of respondents reported experiencing it. Some of the worst offences involved witnessing colleagues shifting blame, missing deadlines and even backstabbing. And we may not like to admit it, but it’s more than likely that we have been guilty of behaving badly ourselves. All because we choose not to speak up. If these issues become systematic – part of the culture – the negative impact on the business and bottom line is a no-brainer.

But culture is simply an amalgam of behaviours, and our own behaviour is one thing we can always be in control of. So what can we do when we are faced with bad behaviour in the workplace?

We typically rely on two systems of thinking. The first allows us to make quick decisions based on very little information; it tells us where to sit, when to shake hands or what to say. Essentially, it’s our ‘fight or flight’ way of thinking. This is what I refer to as our ‘Homer Simpson’ brain. It’s unfair to call this system ‘stupid’ but it’s nothing more than autopilot. It’s very tempting to sit back and rely on our automatic reaction to take over – it’s easier that way.

System two – our ‘Dr Spock’ brain, also known as our executive brain – is the one we use less in difficult scenarios. This allows logical, long-term planning which helps us stop, think and consciously make a decision.

We are capable of using either system at any time, but we are animals. We are programmed to use as little effort as possible, which means we often revert to system one, our Homer brain. In turn, this means we rely on experience and patterns so that we make easy decisions on autopilot.

It’s this reliance, which leads to our inability to speak up. It makes having difficult conversations even harder but we can only make a difference when we learn to effectively engage in difficult conversations. The first step in combating this is self-awareness. If we can learn to recognise our own brain’s ‘laziness’ we can consciously start to engage our ‘Spock’ brain more.

It might well take us far outside our comfort zone to do this, but in time, it becomes easier.

It is inevitable that workplace conflicts will arise – it’s par for the course when we have such diverse workforces, from different backgrounds. While they may arise from reasons beyond our control, we can look at our own behaviour and the role it can play in overcoming conflict.

Next time you find yourself in a challenging situation, take a moment longer to consider your actions. If you can make the time to engage your Spock brain, chances are you’re far more likely to realise the long-term gains and knock bad behaviour on the head.

Dawn Metcalfe is founder of the HardTalk programme and author of the accompanying HardTalk Handbook