Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about self-diagnosed inappropriate behavior:
I find myself being overbearing, loud, arrogant and using humour inappropriately at work – and I don’t know how to change my behaviour or how else to behave! I know I do it because I want to be liked, but I’m not comfortable with the usual bonding talks (home, hobbies, etc) and I’m not sure what else to talk about, or even how to talk casually with my colleagues about non-work related topics. I don’t like the way I behave and try to stop it when I catch myself doing it, but before I realise it, I am doing it again (like a horrible recurring nightmare). I am very good at my job but lousy at office politics and relationships. Any advice?
Signed, Trying to change
Dear Trying to change:
It’s appropriate that I should respond to your message, since at many times in my life I could have written it! However, I have found some ways to deal with the challenges of my strong, verbal, flamboyant personality and have also found some peace about it, as I have gotten older. Perhaps my thoughts will be especially beneficial for those reasons.
1. There’s an old axiom: “If you want to know your most bitter enemy, look in the mirror” I won’t argue with you that you may come across in all the negative ways you describe, and I know the self-loathing that can sometimes accompany those actions. But I also want to point out that you seem very introspective and willing to acknowledge your responsibilities and be held accountable. You also communicate well when you are focused on your communication as you were in your message. Thus, you are far more sensitive and personally responsible than many people.
Most people–especially those who blunder around, stepping on others or being horridly inappropriate–never consider their role in making things different or better. Appreciate that sensitivity you have. You can bet it shows on many occasions when you don’t give yourself credit for it. You may not be as effective as you need to be with office relationships but you may not be as difficult to deal with as you think! Consider talking to your closest colleagues and asking them for their insights about you and your approaches. Ask them to rate you on a scale of one to ten in several settings: Coffee talk, business meetings, around the office, serious times, fun times, and so forth. That might not only help you see the danger times but also might help you discover the true picture of your effectiveness or lack of it.I often suggest this, as the scariest thing to do: Ask a good friend to imitate you in some of those settings. Say, “You don’t have to be mean about it, but let me see how you think others might see and hear me during a conversation about (pick a topic).”
Keep in mind that, like all caricatures, the imitation will be extreme. You aren’t always like that–or always like anything else. You are a mixture just as everyone is. But that imitation will at least help you see what stands out to others.
2. Another issue is for you to consider your role within your work group. The higher up the organization one goes, the more careful one has to be–and the less accepted one is for things that would get laughs and smiles at lower work levels. Gender also plays a part. Fair or not, I think women are held to a higher standard of behavior than men might be. I don’t think it’s TOO high, just higher. So, if you have been criticized and taken it strongly to heart, or if you sense a lack of acceptance when you felt you were being no different than others, keep those issues in mind.
3. Consider one more thing. When you ask your friend to imitate you, ask him or her to list your best, most noble attributes and say how often you demonstrate those in relation to other actions: More often than less effective actions, about the same amount, less than you demonstrate ineffective actions, rarely, or some other measurement. That is another way to put your actions in perspective.
4. Once you’ve established that, whatever your habits, your heart is trying to do well, you can start working on the habits. Start by listing the behaviors you would particularly like to change. Pick the easiest one to deal with first and make that your project until you have it at least under control, if not completely eradicated. People stop smoking, drinking, using drugs and eating unhealthy food, every day–so you can do it. But the best way to do it is to replace the behavior with something else. If bad language is the problem, pick a word to replace all the bad words you might use. If you say risque things, find a phrase that replaces it. For example, a male friend of mine started saying, “Oh you guys! You’re so bad!” That inane phrase replaced the double entendre that he wanted to say. He could have also remained silent–but that was asking too much at first! When you feel you have gotten better control over one behavior you can move to another and work on that–and likely you will start on all of them at once anyway!
5. Now, consider the issue of being overbearing, loud and arrogant. Do some thinking to determine if there are some people with whom you are most likely to act that way. Think about what triggers it and see if you can limit or avoid those situations. Or, when you are in that setting, find a way to remind yourself to self-censor and replace a negative behavior with a positive one. I know someone who wears a rubber band, just as one might wear to help with a diet or something else. She snaps it periodically to remind herself to keep her act together!
6. Practice some good communication techniques:
*Be aware of your impact and continue to take responsibility for it.
*Have a greeting smile for everyone.
*Ask more positive questions than you make statements.
*Be valuable to others. Be a resource and a supporter.
*Be dependable and focus on your work in relationship to the efforts of others and the team.
*Share success when it is appropriate and possible. Force yourself to extend your thinking to others and about others. *Live your life–especially during challenging situations–as though someone is making a video-tape about effectiveness and your conversation is being used as a guide.
*For awhile, or in challenging settings, check yourself every five or ten minutes and evaluate how you are doing. If you haven’t done so well in the last few minutes, make up for it. Pointedly do something or say something positive and helpful.
7. Find ways, other than verbally, to communicate positively. Send thank you notes by email, bring a pack of sugarless gum back from lunch and give it to someone who helped you in some way, lead by example about being a good organizational citizen. Be the one who picks up in the kitchenette, who volunteers to help, who asks people about their work issues. You don’t have to bond with personal conversation if you don’t feel comfortable about that right away. Work is something you all have in common.Keep a book you’re reading on one side of your desk so if someone asks you about it you have a ready-made conversation. Take photos of area sights and have one or two in your work area to start conversation. Become interested in things outside of yourself–and share your interest. Find things about others that interests you and ask them about it. Some of those things might not work for you, but many of them might.
8. You say that some of your behavior is to gain liking and acceptance–and that may be true, though ironic given your ultimate actions. But if you think about it, you may also see in your adult behavior some of the same behaviors you had as a child when you loved being the center of attention, but then over-did it and ended up getting in trouble or feeling foolish. We’re all pretty much kids, still.We tell kids to take a time out. You may find that will be helpful for you as well. Throughout the day, make it part of your schedule to get apart, think of the person you want to be, and calm yourself inwardly and outwardly, to allow that more appropriate, considerate and attractive person to reveal herself. When you allow yourself to ratchet up your energy and enthusiasm, you can lose control just like an over-excited kid does. When you calm yourself for a moment or two, you can return to the room, the coffee area, the office or whatever, and re-enter the conversation with a lowered tone of voice, a pleasant word, a smile just for someone who needs it or silence while other people take center stage.Practice being calm at home and on weekends. Even the process of meditating or meditating in your own way, might be helpful. Go for walks. Do something valuable and productive. But try for times during the day when you have and show peace, rather than bouncing off walls with your strong persona.
If you care enough to write to us about this, you are almost all the way there when it comes to smoooooothing out some of the issues that are bothering you. Some might advise you to focus on others and take your attention away from yourself–and that is a good thing too. But, I think you need to start by nurturing yourself more, not less. You know what kind of person you want to be and how you want to be seen. Purposely be and do those things until it becomes more of a habit than the habits you have now!Best wishes with this challenge. Please let me know the results for you and what is most successful when you develop your plan of action. WEGO is a philosophy that expresses understanding others. But before we can be successful at that, we need to understand ourselves, then work to be a person worthy of respect and friendship. I feel confident you will achieve that!
Tina Lewis Rowe