Emerge and Spread Your Wings

When Colleagues Behave Badly

Why does it come from out of left field sometimes when our colleagues behave badly? What happens when we encounter unprofessional behaviour in people we think of as friends, peers or who we believe should know better?

I’m adding a waiver in here – while I’m talking about unprofessional behaviour I’m not covering unethical actions that could harm clients or others – that’s another ball game, if you will excuse another baseball reference.

Several times recently supervisees have raised how upsetting and angry they felt when people they thought of as friends, or held in esteem, behaved “out of character”. Without going into details I want to unpack the issues brought up. Often when we find ourselves in these situations there are several things going on.
1) We are surprised as we think we know that person, or expect someone in that role not to behave in certain ways.
2) We feel upset or angry or other strong emotions at the behaviour. It can really push buttons that are difficult to deal with.

Aside from some blurring of healthy professional boundaries, what I see happening in these scenarios is a values clash. Our personal values are those core traits that are unique to us. They are those beliefs we hold fundamentally important, that we would stand on our soap box for, that we defend strongly. Our values determine how we show up in our lives. Somewhat ironically we often believe that what we value is so evident that everyone must value it, and we can’t imagine why other people would behave differently (counter that value). For instance if we hold equality as a value it is hard to imagine others might not see the importance of it and treat everyone equally. It is even harder with someone we connect with (a friend, a respected colleague) because then their behaviour counter to our deeply held value feels more personal.

So what to do when we encounter this situation?

Firstly the key is to recognise what is creating such a reaction in us. When we feel intensely about something it is a good sign it is tapping into one of our core values. Ideally it is best if we don’t make rash decisions or act out of these strong emotions.

Secondly we need to decide whether or not our colleague’s behaviour is a breech of the ethical guidelines they work under. This is not always straight forward, but if the person is from a different profession they will be bound by a different ethical code to yours.

If we ascertain it is not an ethical breach of behaviour we may still need to deal with the fall out of it, for ourselves and others. This is a good point to get support if we haven’t sought it earlier. An independent, trusted friend, mentor, manager or superviser may be able to help put the incident in perspective and decide what, if any action is necessary.

Finally, it is really important to tend to our own well-being throughout the process. Understanding why someone has behaved differently to what we expect doesn’t take away the initial pain or feelings of betrayal that we might need to work through. Make time and space to do things that support and nourish you.

If you have had a similar instance in your work-life that you are struggling to work through I’d love to be of assistance to you through supervision. Book a time now.