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  • Zarmina Penner

Diagnosing Bad Behavior Correctly

Picking up from last week's post, I might add that diagnosing bad behavior can be tricky.

A well-motivated but deeply frustrated person vehemently pointing out what is broken in the system and needs fixing may appear to be in bad behavior. A person with a more polished communication style while creating distractions for a personal agenda may appear in good behavior. Behind the facade, it is the motive that counts. So, let us not be too quick to judge at face value.


One sign to look for is, as said before, signs of disrespect. The other one is complaining- especially complaining emphatically and then quickly adding: "Well, actually I am fine with it, I am just concerned about others."


Complaining is not a good habit; complaining about others and not taking responsibility for what is said is a red flag.

It is advisable to catch questionable behavior before it moves to bad or even toxic behavior. To not miss important details, I suggest you screen the situation as follows:

Good behavior is apparent in good results; easy communication, promises kept, and high team spirits.


In other cases, first, do a "health check" on those involved:

  1. Is the person able to do the job (right qualification, role, and level)?

  2. Is the person feeling good about their situation (culture fit, team fit, and peer acceptance)?

  3. Is the person receiving what is needed to do the work (regular information, feedback, validation, listening, and leadership)?

  4. Does the person have enough headspace for the work (any family, health, or emotional burdens)?

Fix whatever you can that is not right using an easygoing coaching manner.

Then check for four critical symptoms of bad or toxic behavior:

  1. not taking responsibility (they, they, they),

  2. lack of empathy (me, me, me),

  3. manipulative tendencies (monologues, exaggerations, and hidden agendas),

  4. your uneasy gut feeling.

If even one symptom is present, stop, and think.

So, there you have it. Now you have the data. Now you can judge, make, and present your case gently. There may be some pushback and people trying to speak their sense into you. Trust your gut. They don't know what you do.


Outside your sphere of responsibility, contribute to raising awareness and taking these kinds of topics out of the closet.

Discuss culture, values, and what behavior the organization does not tolerate in your leadership circles. It will eventually lead to a more precise, balanced, and healthy perspective and make leadership work, even hiring, easier. Done well, it is the highest productivity booster of all and for all.


Imagine soccer or boxing or any good game without rules and referees. It is the same kind of thing. Why should it be any different in organizations?

Image: rawpixel.com

#badbehavior #disrespect #organizationalvalues #leadership #values

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Dr. Zarmina Penner, Steubenstrasse 3, D-65189 Wiesbaden