Bad behavior. It’s everywhere. And a nonprofit office is no exception. At any moment, you could be having trouble with a board member, a volunteer, or a staff person.
Bad behavior can be everything from people forcing their own agendas, behaving rudely at meetings, withholding essential information, failing to fulfill promises, and more.
NOTE: If someone is physically intimidating you or making you feel uncomfortable, that’s a completely different situation and I encourage you strongly to seek support and counsel in how to move forward.
Dealing with bad behavior saps time and energy from the real work of serving your constituents.
You need to be focused on your mission, but instead, you’re getting distracted or playing referee when other people’s feelings are hurt and tempers flare.
But deal you must. Here are a few DON’Ts for dealing with bad behavior:
DON’T punish everyone for the one person’s bad behavior.
It still upsets me when I think about all the times in elementary and middle school that the entire class was punished for the behavior of one or two rogue students. You know what I mean – like when everyone has to leave a field trip early because two kids misbehave. You’ve already got a difficult situation on your hands. Don’t make it worse by lowering morale across the agency.
DON’T try to “policy” your way out of this.
Sure, you should have good policies and procedures for how people behave at your agency, but no policy replaces the importance of communicating directly with someone when their behavior is in need of correcting. Don’t be tempted to create new policies to deal with one person’s poor behavior. If it’s truly one person’s problem, then a policy is just another way of potentially punishing everyone else.
DON’T grease the squeaky wheel.
People who behave badly take up ridiculous amounts of time. Take back the power! Deal with difficult people when you’re ready and not when they make unreasonable demands on your time.
Here are some DO’s to help you move forward:
DO deal directly with bad behavior.
It is terribly uncomfortable to confront someone directly about their behavior. But you need to get over it. By not dealing with it, you are allowing someone’s toxic behavior to affect the achievement of your mission. There’s just too much to lose to let it go on unchecked.
DO act quickly.
In the book Crucial Confrontations the authors talk about “CPR” as a way to define the stages at which you might address someone’s behavior:
Content: You can talk to someone when they’ve committed one “offense” and address the specifics of that one action to clarify your expectations for future behavior.
Pattern: You can talk to someone when they’ve demonstrated a pattern of behavior that is undermining trust and respect.
Relationship: You can talk to them when their behavior has seriously undermined their relationship with you or others at the agency.
Why wait until it reaches the “Relationship” stage? That’s an extremely difficult conversation to have. Nip things in the bud early if you can. If you’re already past that stage, the problem clearly isn’t going away by itself, which makes intervention all the more important.
DO practice your approach.
I was recently a part of a small group that helped a colleague think through and rehearse a difficult conversation he needed to have with an employee. We were able to help him refine his desired outcomes, express his expectations more clearly, and define specific “anchor points” to keep the conversation on track. The difference this made in his ability to run the conversation was enormous. Try it! It really works.
DO get help if you need it.
Regardless of your position, you don’t have to go it alone. Get support from someone else in your agency to help you think through if, when and how to address someone who’s behaving badly.
In Crucial Confrontations, the authors say: “Almost nobody should be harboring the illusion that he or she has been groomed to solve touchy and complicated interpersonal problems. Almost nobody has.”
It’s probably way out of your comfort zone do deal with bad behavior. It’s hard. But with care, forethought and help, you can — and must — do it. As always, we know you can do it!