Weirdness and Self-destructive Behaviour in the Workplace and Online
The workplace can be a weird and wonderful place where you showcase your creativity, forge professional relationships, and contribute to the organization and hopefully to society at large.
Where does the weird come in?
Amongst those professional people with whom you work, there are still an awful lot of strange actions that take place and utterances that are made. The workplace can often seem like a dysfunctional family—and you often do spend more time with your colleagues than with your family.
Before we look at why people engage in self-destructive behaviour on the job and online, let's categorize employee performance into three general areas: competencies, responsibilities, and emotions.
Competencies is self-explanatory: is the employee capable of performing the job duties in an effective and skilled manner?
Responsibilities relate to things like punctuality, meeting deadlines and following through on commitments that you have made to co-workers.
Emotions refer to the way that people conduct themselves in the workplace. The behaviour they display, the comments they make and their overall composure while in the office all fall under the umbrella of emotions.
In my experience, it is the area of emotions that trips up most people in the workplace. Or, as one instructor so memorably told me a few years ago, employers are most interested in how well you play in the sandbox. By the time you get to the stage where you are in serious contention for a job, the employer probably believes that you can perform the relevant duties. But can you consistently interact in a professional way with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds who hold different views?
Reasons for Self-destructive Behaviour in the Workplace
What makes people say inexplicably rude or inappropriate things in the workplace? In general, a person works their way to that point after a period of time with an organization. There are a number of ways that I have seen this play out.
I'm in a Select Group
First, the individual who believes that they have accrued a significant amount of capital in the workplace based on their performance. With that capital, they apparently believe comes the right to start making comments on topics that they know to be off limits in the workplace (the comments are usually sexual or aggressive in nature). They seem aware of what they are doing and are thrilled because they believe they are in a different category than others.
You Can't Fake it Forever
Second, people who become more and more comfortable in the workplace over time and start to let their true colours show. To some degree, all people fall prey to this. However, the smartest, either by experience or simply because of more self-awareness, monitor themselves in this regard and do not let things get out of hand. Or, they catch themselves when they realize that they have started to cross boundaries.
I'm Having a Bad Day so Watch Out
Third, stressed-out individuals who believe that changing circumstances in the workplace justify their behaviour or comments. These are the people who do not do well under pressure and feel that they can unload by cursing or venting in other ways that they should know are unacceptable.
Forgot to Take your Self-awareness Supplements
Fourth, those lacking in self-awareness. They simply don't realize when they are crossing boundaries. And no doubt this is a trait that to some degree afflicts all of the above types as well (even the first type, for they should still know that they do not get a free pass simply because they excel in certain areas).
The main thing to consider through all this is: people, for the most part, cannot conceal their true selves over a long period of time. I have seen this in every organization I have worked, both small and large. A few people develop this strange compulsion to make inappropriate comments and seem to believe that they are admired by others for "daring" to say things that others will not. However, usually it is not admiration that they see in the faces of others who look at them when they cut loose. It is a facial expression that is trying to communicate, "how could you be so stupid?"
But wait, you might be thinking, I do work in a place like this, and apparently nothing is being done about it.
Of course, some workplaces do allow this kind of behaviour. And what is the long-term result? Resentment on the part of employees who do know how to conduct themselves and an increasingly toxic environment over time. Despite those who invoke tired claims of "political correctness gone wild," changes to eliminate nasty behaviour in the workplace came about for a reason...the vast majority of people want to work in an atmosphere that is free of insults, harassment and unpleasant individuals.
Another thing to consider: if this kind of behaviour is taking place in your workplace, there is a good chance that it is being noted by management. In the modern-day office it is not always an easy matter to fire (un)professionals, regardless of how they are conducting themselves. But when the time comes, and it almost inevitably does for the the serial spewers of unwise statements, those comments will often be the deciding factor in letting someone go.
Similarities Online: Linkedin Unpleasantness
Just as in the workplace, a remarkable number of people show poor judgment on Linkedin when posting in group discussions and in the questions and answers section. Linkedin has achieved that rarest of feats in the online world: it has convinced the vast majority of users to use their real names. So posting unwise comments is even more surprising (or less, if you long ago stopped being shocked at people's behaviour and willingness to harm their own reputations).
In some ways, the damage done through sarcastic, unprofessional or downright nasty comments on Linkedin is worse. Because the comments are in writing and they're a permanent record for all to see. Sure, you can edit or delete the worst of them on reflection but people can take screen shots and you have no idea who is watching.
How to Avoid Self-destructive Comments and Behaviour
How do you keep from sliding toward the self-destructive side? Here are 10 ways to avoid poor behaviour in the workplace and on Linkedin.
1. Never say anything bad about anyone, ever. Gossiping in the workplace can become a bad habit with only too many people ready to enable your addiction. Avoid at all costs.
2. Consider how your comments could be interpreted by people from different backgrounds, religious beliefs and sensitivities. If it is possible that anyone could take offense, don't make the comment.
3. Avoid the big 5: religion, politics, gender relations, race, and weight. It's just not worth it! Save your ideas about these topics for home or the pub.
4. Remember that you are not as clever as you think, and others do NOT necessarily share your sense of humour. So many problems arise in the workplace because of misguided attempts at humour. Or just as often, someone utters a nasty comment under the guise of making a joke. How often have you heard the defense, "I was only joking"? Not many people left who will take you seriously if you trot out this lame attempt at deflecting responsibility.
5. You know those colleagues who seem to like your edgy comments in the workplace? It's just as likely that they are enjoying the spectacle of you slowly self-destructing and are simply marveling at your lack of self-awareness. Be aware of your relationships in the workplace and other people's ulterior motives.
6. Make a conscious effort to avoid getting too close with colleagues. Sure you want to have good relationships with your co-workers. But they are your co-workers first and you should draw a line somewhere. Some of the biggest problems that I have seen over the years have come from cliques in the workplace and the inevitable melodrama that develops.
7. Work at cultivating your professional self. For some people, there is little difference between their at-home self and their work self. And for some, that works. For others, however, a concerted effort may be required to determine who exactly you want to present yourself as in the workplace. This isn't being a phony. It is simply being aware of the reality of today's workplace.
8. Use the 10 second rule. This is a tried and true method for engaging in some good old fashioned self-editing. Feeling your emotions rise and a comment coming to mind at about the same time? Relax for a few seconds. Reconsider. And then, more than likely, refrain from saying it.
9. Say something nice instead. Every workplace has one. The person who always has something good to say about everyone. Become that person.
10. Remember that just because there is no immediate negative fallout from a borderline comment that you have made, does not mean your are being given tacit approval. People remember what you say!
Good luck and stay professional!