8 Methods to Get Rid of Unwanted Behavior
Updated: Apr 7
If you work on a team you are bound to experience different approaches to doing things, be it how people behave in meetings, how individuals interact with their teammates, how your coworkers think of punctuality or even the type of jokes being told on breaks. Diversity individuals bring with them is more than welcome to get creative exchanges and discuss different points of view.
But what to do when the behavior coming from your otherwise well meaning colleague starts getting in the way of your collaboration and getting things done?
There are several methods that depending on the environment, people involved and type of behavior each have their place and time. The first four are considered negative, and the rest are positive ways of treating others. We'll go through them one by one and give some examples of how they might be applied.
This approach is too harsh in most situations, but sometimes it is the only option in order to protect the company and it's employees. For example use of this method would be appropriate if a teammate breaks the law, tries to damage company's or another employee's reputation or property, behaves inappropriately at work and in this way disrupts normal functioning of a team etc.
Once you get rid of the perpetrator, you will definitely be sure the same behavior won't be repeated again, not by the same person anyway. The removal can be done by firing the problematic employee, by moving them to another department, or by simply removing them from the team.
It's important to note here that this approach doesn't teach better way of doing things, it only stops the unwanted behavior in that very situation.
Although this method is arguably the most frequently used one on this list, it is surprisingly ineffective in changing problematic behaviors and habits permanently. The reason for this is that the negative consequence usually occurs much later, not directly after the unwanted act. Much of the legal system relies on this method. Examples here are numerous: harsh criticism, yelling at someone, monetary punishment, corporal punishment and so on.
The idea behind using this approach is that people will think what consequence they will have to suffer if they break the rules. But what usually happens is that the receiver of the punishment starts avoiding the one who punishes and tries not to get caught, instead of behaving in a more constructive way.
As in the first method the main problem here is that this approach does not teach a better alternative to the problematic behavior.
In this method a negative event or feeling is removed if the behavior is changed.
For example if a strong unpleasant smell gets into the office whenever you open a window, you will stop opening the window. Or if a red blinking light turns on whenever you break a build and everyone looks at you with contempt, you will stop checking in code unless you're sure it won't break the build. The main difference from the previous method is that the negative consequence is immediate.
An important fact here is that the event has to be seen as negative by the person, otherwise it would not work as a negative consequence. If you cannot smell pungent odors or do not recognize colors, two examples from above would not have an effect on you.
A word of warning: the long term outcome of using this approach is an environment that is filled with avoidance, fear, stress, confusion, resistance and lack of initiative.
This approach is about letting the behavior disappear on its own. To successfully use the method, it is important that there is no negative or positive consequence for the behavior.
If a teammate always complains about having to attend meetings for example, applying this approach would mean completely ignoring the complaints. If there is a positive or a negative reaction to it, it encourages the behavior to continue.
Encouraging Incompatible Behavior
Here the main idea is to start a physical activity that is incompatible with the unwanted behavior.
In the example of a grumpy colleague that doesn't like being in meetings, one possible solution would be to start the meeting with a fun activity that would make them laugh. Since laughing and having a good time cannot happen at the same time with complaints, problematic behavior disappears.
Putting Behavior on Cue
In this method we set up time, place and signal for unwanted behavior and only reward it under these predefined circumstances.
In the example of the grumpy colleague, you would reserve a fixed amount of time for "complaints" when everyone (and at the same time) is allowed to bring up anything that bothers them, however silly it might be. When the time is up, whining time is over and any further complaints are simply ignored. The time-box reserved for complaints can then gradually be reduced until you decide not to reserve any time at all for it.
You put the behavior on a cue and then you simply don't give the cue anymore. Problem solved.
Encouraging Absence of Behavior
This is useful technique when you don't have anything specific you would like someone to do, you just want them to stop doing what they're doing. If the grumpy colleague says something that is not a complaint, reward it by praise. When there is a complaint, ignore it. This will slowly reduce the amount of complaints in favor of other more constructive behaviors.
Changing the motivation for a behavior is the most effective way of changing the behavior itself. The biggest catch here is figuring out what is the real motivation behind.
If a colleague is grumpy in a meeting, it might be that they already had 3 long meetings, have problems at home, they are hungry or are not happy with the effectiveness of the meeting. Sometimes simply asking what the problem is will reveal possible solutions. And of course it's very important to listen to the answer carefully.
This is also the kindest and the most humane way to approach changing someone's habits and behavior.