What To Do When Good Intentions Lead To Bad Behaviour

Posted by Karen Wright & filed under Positive Psychology at Work.

Recently we’ve received a flurry of client calls asking for support to solve issues related to the workplace equivalent of bullying, and generally impolite and inconsiderate behaviour. And when a flurry of similar inquiries occurs, it’s an opportunity to step back and try to figure out what’s going on at a broader level.

If you begin with the premise that most people have good intentions most of the time, it’s logical to infer that when they behave badly there must be a reason.  The probing I’ve done in response to the inquiries has resulted in the, perhaps obvious, conclusion that stress in the workplace is at an all time high.

Business is tough these days, and so working life is similarly challenging. Every organization I know is trying to do “more with less”, and is driving to achieve better results than ever before. Lots of change is going on, training budgets are being reduced, and management time is more precious than ever resulting in less time for mentoring and guidance. Everyone is feeling huge pressure, and as a result everyone is in survival mode – a state of being where territory is being protected, trust is low, and resources are stretched beyond reason. No wonder there are people behaving badly! There’s nothing balancing against the stress and negativity – nothing offsetting the massive ongoing drain of energy.

Positive psychology tells us that one of the key ingredients of a flourishing life is a high level of resilience. Resilience is the ability to get back up after adversity. Life is unpredictable. Resilient people are able to accept change and difficulty as opportunities for self-reflection, learning, and growth. They are able to choose how to interpret difficult events and challenging feedback. Resilience is cultivated from within, by how we perceive and respond to stressors, which means we can increase our stores of resilience with conscious practice over time.

One practice that has been proven to improve resilience is mindfulness. People who practice mindfulness have been found to be better able to cope with difficult thoughts and emotions. Pausing and observing the mind can help prevent us from getting stuck in the stories that don’t serve us.

Mindfulness in the workplace is a tough concept for some to grasp – until you dig deeper into what mindfulness really is. Being mindful means simply taking a moment – one second – to pause before reacting. To consider the impact of the action you’re about to take, or what you’re about to say. To plan the best way to approach another individual. To connect with how you’re feeling, and then do the thing that will increase your own well-being, mood, or behaviour. To consider the possible impact of the thing you’re about to do, both for yourself and for others.

Life’s stressors are subjective – whether something is good or bad is a function of our own individual interpretation. Mindfulness practices help us see things as they are, which then gives us the ability to respond with wisdom and consideration, rather than reacting in a harmful way. Given the current stressful state of our workplaces, spending a few minutes a day in a mindfulness practice can’t possibly hurt.

Check out www.mindful.org for more on this topic.


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