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Friday Philosophy – Condoning Bad Behaviour February 2, 2018

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Management, Perceptions.
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I used to work with a man called Nick(*). Nick was friendly enough, he was good at programming and he had very few annoying personal habits. Nick was easy to work with.

I WON’T take my share of the Christmas Cover!

When he finally turned up.

You see, Nick would sometimes turn up around 9am like everyone else. But more often he would get in just before 10am. And then it started to go past 10am and more like 10:15, 10:30… soon it was closer to 11am. He used to stay quite late to make up the time and he got done the programming work he was allocated. But it was a pain in the backside for everyone else. People who worked with him would be waiting for him to turn up and he would sometimes amble into a meeting after it had started.

Then I found myself managing Nick and about the first thing I did was have a little chat about his timekeeping. Nice, friendly Nick did not like this, he could not see the problem, he stayed late to do his work, the company was getting it’s “pound of flesh” as he put it. Why did it matter? So I explained the impact on the rest of the team and that core hours were clearly stated: 10:00-12:00 & 14:00-16:00. During those hours we all knew everyone was around and we could collaborate, it’s called team work.

Nick was having none of this – “If this was a problem, how come Sarah never raised it as an issue?”. And there was the reason that this was not just a small problem but a big problem. Yes, Sarah was his prior boss and she had not said anything to him about it. “You are just trying to show who is boss!”. Yes, yes I am, and being your boss is partly to tell you when you are doing things wrong, so stop it.

Nick’s prior boss had made the decision to condone bad behaviour, to let Nick come in later and later without intervening. Sometimes condoning bad behaviour is an active thing, like laughing at sexist/racist jokes, but usually it is a passive thing. If someone is doing something wrong and, as their manager, you do not challenge it then you are accepting it, you are condoning it. And once you have let it slip a few times, challenging it is harder. In Nick’s case it had resulted in the occasional late arrival becoming common, an accepted situation and a much more significant issue. It was also now a harder behaviour to challenge.

This situation is of course not limited to the manager/subordinate relationship, sometimes our friends or relatives behave badly and you have the choice to accept it or challenge it. I think that helps us immediately understand why we condone bad behaviour, as to challenge it causes confrontation. And very few of us like confrontation.

In another situation I had, there was a guy who would suddenly just go off the deep end for no good reason. Something would annoy him and he would start shouting and getting angry, way beyond what was reasonable. Now, to challenge that kind of bad behaviour you know it is going to be hard work. Thankfully, my boss at the time did, and explained to me at length and very forcefully that I needed to be more mature and less of a dick.

I think we can all agree that we should not condone bad behaviour but we can be reticent to do so due to the conflict.

Of course, a particularly difficult situation is when it is your boss (or parent!) who is behaving badly!

You will respect my authority!

Also, at what point do you challenge the behaviour? Probably not at the first incident, especially if it is minor like turning up to work late. After all, it might be a one-off, they may have reasons for the behaviour (one person I managed was turning up late as they were having a hell of a time at home, they needed some slack). Something more serious such as socially unacceptable behaviour, you need to question it right away. You also can’t challenge every small thing you perceive as wrong, you will just annoy everyone and become regarded as a control freak/moral bore.

You also need to consider the impact of challenging them. If it is over something that would embarrass or offend them, it could sour your relationship with them and the rest of the team. Catching someone out lying can be tricky to deal with (I once had someone ask me for holiday on short notice as a relative was ill. But his new girlfriend also reported to me and she was honest about the “urgent need” for the holiday…). I think the most common decision made when the bad behaviour is one that the other person will be embarrassed or in denial over is to let it lie or challenge it “if it happens again”. Only, just like with Nick and his late arrivals, each time you delay addressing the bad behaviour it will get harder to do so.

I can’t claim that I always handled the condoning of bad behaviour as well as I should, I was by no means a perfect boss or friend (or relative). I think it is one of the hardest parts of being a manager, especially if you are averse to confrontation. But over all, I’ve suffered more in the long run by not challenging bad behaviour than I have by trying to handle it.

As to how you handle it, that’s a whole different topic…

(* Nick was not his real name, I changed it to protect the innocent… It was Dave)

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Comments»

1. Narendra - February 2, 2018

Martin,

It is indeed difficult to be a good manager but who really wants to be a good manager (especially in the eyes of the people working for him/her?)

mwidlake - February 2, 2018

I think if you don’t want to be a good manager then you won’t be a good manager – and whoever put you into that role made a mistake. Sadly, it seems to be a common mistake.

Something I say often is that the role of a manager is to get the best out of their team.

Narendra - February 2, 2018

Maybe it is just me but most of the managers that I have met, have become managers because they want to and that is considered to be an easier way to get promoted…after all it is more difficult to get recognition by getting better at work than to claiming credit for the work done by others… 🙂

2. Karen - February 3, 2018

Thanks Martin for this article. Very pertinent and interesting and very reflective. As we deal with people in general, it is always good to review behaviours as to what has now become acceptable because it’s easier to deal with it that way but in others would otherwise be challenged. We need to be consistent in our approach to challenging bad behaviour unless there is a real reason not to be.

mwidlake - February 3, 2018

I did not really touch on how behaviours have changed over the years (if I am interpreting part of your comment correctly). I remember behaviours in the early 90’s that were just accepted then but would be something I would challenge now.

3. Frank Gordon - February 5, 2018

I remember in a technical interview back in the early 90’s (in London) being told by a Unix guru that my “legs would be broken” if I stepped out of line. Oddly I didn’t follow up on that job.
I should have known though the job advert in the Evening Standard said “drinking an swearing essential”.

The good old days?

4. Friday Philosophy – Not My Cup Of Tea | Martin Widlake's Yet Another Oracle Blog - March 16, 2018

[…] comes back to Condoning Bad Behaviour. I actually decided that some people are not nice (and probably never will be) long before I came […]


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