#cipdmap16 – Getting under the surface of workplace behaviour

Karen Meager of Monkey Puzzle is speaking about work and leadership. In business we see ‘unhelpful behaviours; and in work we try and address them, often through instruction / process / policy, by changing behaviour. Karen helps business see what’s behind the behavioural ‘issues’ so she’ll be showing us some of these things, some of the science about why and how you can do something about that. And talking about how to know better when you’ve done enough.

Real Leaders for the Real World. Surveyed over 60 leaders who’d been nominated as being good – good on purpose to get a real world view. The profiling showed that leaders broadly mirrored the population – positive that no one personality type makes a good manager. Through interviews – what are the most difficult things in achieving what you want to achieve.

3 hardest things for these managers –

  • Arrogance – where a person believes they perform better than they actually do

Confident vs arrogance – does their performance meet their view of what they think? If it matches then it’s confidence. Subjective of course but if there’s a consensus view then good enough.

Key challenge – relational issues – we’re British. We like people to be quite reverent (watch out for seeing confidence as arrogance).

Arrogance was found to be more common in the professional services industry – where people’s identities are more attached to the subject they’ve studied and become ad exert in.

Org problems – mistakes, company reputation, people don’t follow them if they’re leaders.

  • Laziness – where people deliver below expectations and/or seem to have low motivation

Can show up as avoidant or blocking behaviour or being stubborn. We can compute about 5-9 things consciously. But we pick up loads more unconsciously. This stuff builds up in the background of people’s minds and spreads a story that they’re not pulling their weight and others follow it.

Org problems – productivity, morale, it spreads

  • Bullying – repeated, persistent, aggressive behaviour intended to dominate others

Different to one-off or short term anger. Covert stuff can be the hardest to catch and that’s as important as catching the overt.

Org problems – fear & blame culture, endemic health issues, productivity, poor decision-making because people are operating from a place of fear

Talking Brain Stuff –


Reptilian brain is there to keep up alive. Fight, Flight, Freeze. Primitive and there rom when born. If someone kicks off in a boardroom then there’s a good chance their reptilian brain is in charge. No point trying to have a logical conversation with them.

Mammalian (or mid) brain is something we have some of when we’re born but thethings that happen to us very early in life develop this part of the brain and inform our relationships with people throughout our life. How to ask for help, how to have effective social relationships with others, etc. We can change this part of our brain we need motivation and we need to know the choices for how to change.

Neocortex is where we talk, think, move, create and learn from. This part forms during the first 5 years of life.

Why does this matter?

When things happen at work, you could be unintentionally triggering something in their brain. If someone’s behaving like a 2 year old, they probably are because they’ll be relying on strategies they learnt as a child. You need to first get them back into adult to work with them.

Common origins of difficult workplace behaviour –

  • Parental problems that we project onto managers and colleagues – we get triggered back to feeling like we did as a child / behaving how we would then
  • Problems with authority figures – parents, teachers, etc
  • Fear of failure and shame associated with getting things wrong – laziness can come from this because they’re paralysed by a fear of failure (which is a reptilian response – threat to ego)
  • Being a chastised or ‘special’ child makes it hard to accurately assess own performance – an essential skill as a manager or leader because you’re also then far more able to get people to perform well. ‘Special’ children were either always told they were brilliant – and they believe it. Someone who’s arrogant because they’re under confident, their arrogance is a cover for what they’re not sure of.

If something happens at work and there’s a disproportionate response then likely it’s something from childhood that’s being triggered.

Solutions for the top 3 challenges :





Org Strategies

  1. Conflict resolution and negotiation skills are essential as life skills
  2. Don’t’ feed the animal and give bad behaviour fuel
  3. If you’re addressing behaviour effectively it may get worse before it gets better
  4. Tackle behaviour issues at a behavioural level; it’s not about their identity
  5. Who you promote and recognise gives everyone on a message

Sometimes the big fancy change interventions aren’t what make the difference.  If we all start taking one step and move in the right direction, these quiet, covert steps, are what makes the bigger difference.

This has been live blogged in good faith from CIPD Midlands Area Partnership 2016.  I’ve done my best to represent the session accurately but I’m human so there might be some bits missing or not in as full detail as shared in the room.

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