What Does Toxic Behavior Say About Us in the Workplace?(Ways of Curving the Appetite)

Children that challenge authority want to be empowered and in power themselves. When I grew up and attended a public school in a large city in a large neighborhood, I learned that children can be very cruel and mean to each other. Research has shown that children that don’t know how to handle conflict with their peers or adults sometimes resort to violent actions that may result in massive harm to others (i.e., through school shootings). These children choose extreme behaviors in order to exert their need to be independent and capable in the eyes of their peers.

Some outward warning signs that teachers should be aware include a refusal of the student to cooperate in the classroom, avoidance of participation in school activities, and consistent attempts to challenge authority. These are all signs of a person who feels self-defeated, has low self-esteem and feels dependent. However, research shows that the child’s actions are protective mechanisms. Professional teachers must try to understand why the child exhibits these types of behaviors. A wise teacher challenges these behaviors and guides the student to a safe and trusting environment.

I was one of these students. I didn’t want to be the center of attention or to be aggressive, but I wanted to fit in and feel accepted by my peers. Fortunately, I had mentors in my life. I recall the pastor at my mother’s church stopping me and saying very encouraging words that have stuck with me: “You are going to be that special someone in life.” His kind words prevented much anger from manifesting in my growing years, because he showed me acceptance in a large and chaotic world. All children need is an encouraging word that they are somebody and that, as a society, we care about them.

Not having mentors and good teachers in my life while growing up in a negative environment would have lefts scars on my psyche.

But teachers must not respond emotionally or be distracted by the ethnicity or size of the student. Reacting to a preconceived idea of their personality does not provide a cure for these students. Instead, be trustworthy and make a connection with them. Never try to shape their behavior but challenge that behavior. Someone once said that what you see on the outside is not the true expression on the inside. Ignore the outside expression, and deal with the person crying out for help.

You may be asking: What does this have to do with the workplace? Well, it’s relevant because there’s almost always conflict in the workplace. It starts when certain behaviors are not immediately responded to. If our problematic childhood behaviors remain unchallenged, then they will be challenged in our adult lives, either by society or your peers in the workplace. This behavior is manifested in bullying, anger, vindictiveness, and screaming.

We all have worked with or heard of adult “babies” in the workplace. Those whose power and attention-seeking make the workplace environment psychologically negative and toxic. This makes work a hellish place that people hate coming to, all because the behavior of the negative person were never dealt with when he or she was a child.

If you’re a supervisor or team leader, have a plan of action for dealing with those who have never outgrown their disrespect for authority. Society is often not lenient, and it will not put up with disrespectful or toxic behavior in the workplace.

Here are my suggestions, based on my experience:

  1. Role Modeling – As a supervisor or team lead, you must model the behavior you want your employees or team members to mimic. In the military, we are taught to lead by example. If you want professionalism, loyalty, and good ethical behavior, then be that example. I cannot say this enough. People mimic their environment and their leaders. So, diminish the negative, and embrace positive behavior. Don’t allow favoritism to poison your work environment. Have you ever heard of a “teacher’s pet”? Well, there are also servants to the boss. This behavior diminishes creativity in the employee and lessens the chances that the organization will see its return on investment in them.
  2. Focus on the Problem – When you see undesirable behavior in an individual or group, focus on the problem. Do not let it go unattended. In my years of leadership, I have always focused on the problem child who brings that behavior into the workplace. Remember, others are watching how you deal with this unacceptable behavior. So, focus in on it like a laser beam, and zap it out!
  3. Counsel the Problem – Once you isolate the problem, isolate the perpetrator, and counsel them. Don’t do it in a negative way. Explain to the individual how her behavior is affecting the organization, team, or the work environment. Remember, you want a harmonious, efficient, and professional workplace.
  4. Reinforce Policies and Regulations – Get your organization or team members together and explain to them your organization’s policies, regulations and procedures and how to deal with unwanted behavior in the workplace. By doing this, you are establishing boundaries and providing a stable environment that drives up productivity and profitability.
  5. Record your counseling session – Finally, record your counseling session with the individual employee or team members, and outline a plan to administer appropriate punishment if more offenses happen. Remember never to hesitate to carry out your disciplinary plan when a violation occurs.

Dealing with conflicting behaviors in the workplace is a task that should never be taken lightly. It should be dealt with immediately when recognized by all leaders (i.e., teacher, supervisors, team leads or managers). Remember, once toxic behaviors get out of hand, other employees or team members will follow.

Derrick Darden, Ph.D. has been an adjunct faculty member at Park University and Tiffin University teaching management and human resources course for more than eight years. Before this, he served in the U.S. Army for 22 years in the field of Logistics Management. Presently, working for Dept. of Army, Acquisition Contracting Command