Why leaders need to understand workplace behaviour

understand workplace behaviour

Understanding workplace behaviour is an important leadership skill. It is easy to judge people’s behaviour without thinking about the deeper causes that might be driving it.

Failing to understand workplace behaviour causes misconceptions

If you judge others in a shallow manner, it can often seem as if they are being unreasonable, illogical or stupid. Unfortunately, it’s often easier to do this than to look out for their real motivations.

“Tony is so disorganised. I’ve never come across someone who makes so many mistakes.”

Maybe Tony is trying to handle too much work and is struggling. Perhaps he needs help managing a huge workload or understanding how to say no.

Failing to understand workplace behaviour causes you to jump to conclusions

This person isn’t acting how I would like them to, so they must be stupid / incompetent / arrogant / malicious. When I label somebody with one of these negative words, I feel superior. They’re so stupid and I’m so smart. If I was in their position I would never do something like that!

The problem is, you’re not in their position, so it’s very difficult to tell. This is exactly why your brain can comfortably make the leap of logic without you needing to investigate it.

Often keeping your mind open to the possible reasons behind someone’s actions is enough to see that they aren’t necessarily the raving lunatic people are making them out to be.

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Understanding workplace behaviour: Scenario 1

Peter has been pestering you all week for estimates and “next steps” for a project. He’s previously shown no interest in this work at all and he’s not really your boss either. He’s really starting to get on your nerves.

Perhaps Peter has been handed the responsibility for this project and he’s under pressure from somebody who outranks him. Maybe Peter is uncomfortable with you being in charge of the project. You made a small mistake once that he still remembers.

Perhaps Peter is just a pain. Which one is it?

Understanding workplace behaviour: Scenario 2

Kate frequently publicly congratulates people on the work they’re doing using the all-staff email address. It really gets on your nerves. Can’t everyone tell she’s just one of those office suck ups, just trying to get ahead?

Perhaps Kate has been told in her performance review that she needs to be more of a team player. Maybe Kate’s boss has told her that she is too negative.

Perhaps Kate is genuinely happy for other people and doesn’t realise that sending all-staff emails is annoying. Maybe Kate is just a really annoying person. Which one is it?

Understanding workplace behaviour helps you to improve your team

When people are open and honest and speak transparently about workplace behaviour, you have chance to improve. This may not happen very often as some people like to see other people struggling, because it makes them feel better about themselves.

For instance, if I see another manager struggling to deliver a project, I can easily say to myself “He finds it tough too. It’s not just me.” However, this attitude isn’t really that helpful. Wouldn’t it be better if I was looking to be better at my job, rather than to accept the mediocre standard that I had achieved because it matched somebody else’s?

Truly understanding workplace behaviour helps you to fix issues in your team. It can take time and effort to sit down with somebody and discuss how they are feeling to discover the reasons behind their actions.

Some people like to see others in trouble because it makes them feel better about their own situation. When that person eventually leaves the organisation with their reputation damaged, is that really fair? Could you do something to correct the situation before it happens?

Don’t sit by and let dysfunction rule your team. Understanding your team’s workplace behaviour helps you to diagnose issues so that they don’t become the norm.

It’s easy to watch somebody struggle while you feel superior. It’s better to understand their issues and see if things can be improved.

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