How to Address Repeated Bad Behavior

The problems that keep people up at night are rarely the one-off follies of their coworkers, co-workers, and family members. It’s the behavior patterns that never seem to get better.

When something in life is painful or frustrating, we are usually told that we have three choices:

  • Accept.
  • Change it.
  • Leave it.

But if those choices aren’t options, what’s the best way to change the situation? Start with yourself.

The best way to influence others is to focus on yourself. If you don’t heed this principle, the tips here seem like tactics with a superficial motive and are likely to fail.

master your story

Stories are the conclusions, assumptions, and judgments that follow our observations. We often hold on to them as if they were fact, but they are not.

When it comes to bad behavior, we often first tell ourselves a story about it What another person did it. This prevents us from having effective conversations. You may be thinking, “But Justin, my stories about this person are true. I have evidence that my judgments are correct.”

Remember, if your story is wrong about a situation, you have no right to get angry; If your story is correct about a situation, you have no reason to get angry. Therefore, there is no need to get angry or upset. Getting upset that someone is letting you down undermines your credibility and your ability to influence them.

The second story we often tell ourselves relates to this why someone did something. The answer is seldom as simple as we think.

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When we make mistakes, we quickly provide numerous reasons for our behavior. But when others make mistakes or misbehave, we often attribute it to ignorance, disrespect, motivation, or some other perceived intellectual or moral deficiency.

You can challenge these limiting stories by asking yourself why she may have done what they did in this situation or what else contributes to their behavior that you don’t see.

Look for sources of influence

As you try to understand what might be contributing to your co-worker’s bad behavior, and if you can influence them to change, consider these possible factors:

  • Are you motivated to change?
  • Do they have the skills and knowledge to change?
  • Are there incentives for the bad behavior?
  • Do they have the tools to adopt new behaviors?
  • Are policies and processes making change difficult?

These questions are not about looking for excuses. Like a doctor, you try to make a diagnosis by identifying personal, social, and environmental factors that may be contributing to their behavior.

Some of these questions you may be able to answer yourself, while others may require a conversation. As you ask these questions to the other person, hold your judgment and listen. Try to understand, not blame.

While making the diagnosis, you can uncover reasons, but you can also be given excuses. It is up to you to determine if an answer is valid. When you get excuses, make it a topic of conversation. Perhaps the problem lies less in bad behavior and more in the inability to have a meaningful conversation about it.

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Have the right conversation

People often discuss superficial issues because it’s easier to do. But just because you talk doesn’t mean you solve the problem.

Usually, beneath the surface of stubborn problems, we find a lot of unsolved problems. If we don’t talk about the right problem or the root of the problem, the problem remains unresolved and can even get worse. Discuss the pattern of behavior and not just the last episode that frustrated you. If discussing the pattern doesn’t get you anywhere, you may want to address the relationship. See Chapter 3 of for more tips Crucial Conversations: Tools for conversations when the stakes are high by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler and Emily Gregory.

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