Childlike Office Behaviors

workplace tantrumGrowing up, my mother used to tell me things like, "if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all," or "you have to play nice and do unto others as you want done unto you." Why? Because as a young child, you need to be taught to behave appropriately in certain situations -- especially environments like school, where you are mixed together with a lot of other people.

Ever feel like your boss's mother didn't teach him those life lessons? Do you have to deal with whiners, tattletales, tantrum-throwers, or other immature "adults" in your workplace? You are not alone.

These childish behaviors often have far-reaching impact. An article entitled "Do Your Workers Need A Time Out?" in the March issue of HR Magazine cautions that childish behaviors have no place at work: "If you manage a seemingly mature human being (temples of gray, body parts heading south, wrinkles) who regularly acts like a child, it may be more than annoying; it may be adversely affecting the entire organization."

After seven years of research, interviews and studies, Lynn Taylor, a nationally recognized workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, has figured out the six most common types of childish office behaviors -- and better yet, how to deal with them.

"I had often joked that some bosses were just like little kids; but it soon occurred to me that it wasn't just an off-handed quip ... it was true," Taylor said. " I saw striking parallels between troublesome bosses (even co-workers) and toddlers -- and not surprisingly, the solutions were frequently similar as well."

Here are Taylor's insights:


Most common childlike workplace behaviors

Self-oriented: Like a toddler who insists that everyone watch him NOW, a self-oriented person wants all the attention constantly on himself. The concept of "team player" is lost on this type of person.

Stubborn: Like a child who tries to stick the hippo puzzle piece into the guppy-shaped hole 20,000 times, and gets angry when you offer the correct piece, in the workplace, this type of person sees no other idea than hers and she is not flexible on the idea of listening to others.

Overly demanding: We've all heard the loud child who gets louder when her demands are not immediately met. In the workplace, the demanding type of employee sends emails in ALL CAPS and barks orders and makes sure everyone knows that whatever she wants, she wants it NOW!

Interruptive: Like children who gallop through the room and start talking no matter what you are doing, this type of employee, boss, or client will never let you complete a thought.

Impulsive: Acting without thinking can be forgiven when a child does it; but when it happens in the workplace -- someone blurts out an inappropriate comment, or takes off when there is work to be done -- it creates havoc.

Tantrum-throwing: We've all seen toddlers who scream, stomp, and throw themselves on the floor when Mommy won't give them what they want, but in the workplace, this type of employee, boss, or client can yell, "Because of you my life is miserable!"

Are any of these behaviors ringing workplace bells? "Fortunately, by recognizing the parallel between out-of-control kids and bosses (or co-workers), you'll discover that the same basic techniques often work effectively for both," Taylor noted.

-- See average salaries for a psychotherapist, mental health counselor and psychiatrist.


How to deal with childlike behaviors at work

1. Use your intelligence and experience to manage bad boss behavior. Don't just avoid your boss when he is "in monster mode" or " on the war path." Taylor recommends identifying what the underlying reasons are for your boss's bad behavior, and then managing that bad behavior accordingly.

2. Set limits. Taylor gently reminds us all that to be productive employees, we must set limits on bad behavior across the board -- with bosses, co-workers, and even ourselves. Even as we age, our childhood stays with us. We need to learn how to control our own child-like tendencies so that we harness the good of our inner childlike nature, and not the bad. Positive and negative reinforcement works wonders. According to Taylor, "It's incumbent upon employees to set limits to bad behavior and reinforce the good."

3. Resist the temptation to let others' tension devour you. "Realize that you can take specific steps to manage relationships on your terms," Taylor said. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have, the better. Be mindful of how you use your knowledge though, because as Taylor cautioned, "A humanistic approach in the office benefits all."

Just like parenthood, there is no one book or manual that outlines all the key steps for tackling office relationships; but we can all benefit from Taylor's research and identification of the types of childlike behaviors that can appear in the workplace -- both in others and in ourselves.

Next: Is Your Workplace Toxic? >>


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from bad to worse

Terrible Office Tyrant - the phrase rings so true for me and a lot of people I know, who have a bad boss. The workplace situation seems to be going from bad to worse in recent years. Is it the recession? Feels good, though, to see someone address the issue.

May 02 2010 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
anybody can be a TOT, not only a boss

I have to agree with "not a bad boss" - EVERYBODY can lapse into infantile behavior. I have a co-worker who can easily poison my whole day, a real TOT. The advice here is good, but the article is too short, so it's not enough to really equip you to deal with the problem - you absolutely have to check Taylor's own website and her book (I did!)

May 01 2010 at 5:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
not a bad boss

I was happy to see that HR Magazine article mentioned - "Do Your Workers Need A Time Out?" It's all bad boss this and bad boss that. What about employees? I have a TOT in my subdivision who is very disruptive, but in a way that makes it difficult to fire her. Self-oriented? - yes!; stubborn? - yes!; overly demanding? - yes! interruptive? - certainly! But her subtle passive-agressive ways make it hard to persuade HR that she needs to go. So much of my time and energy goes to managing THAT instead of what I really need to do.

April 24 2010 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hombre

Bad boss can be such a drag. Mine definitely didn't get any lessons from her mom. It's like all those 6 features rolled into one obnoxious package. Tyrant indeed. I guess I should check out that TOT-taming book by Taylor.

April 23 2010 at 11:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mostinterested

I've read the book - it is really good. Written with humor - it's already easier to deal with a bad boss if you can laugh, at least to yourself. Also, you find a lot of practical advice. Even CEOs get a chapter on how to deal with those TOTs. Certainly made it easier for me.

April 23 2010 at 10:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sam

Disappointed - For strategies on how to deal with your bad boss, read Taylor's, Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. You have to be proactive or you will be disappointed forever.

April 23 2010 at 12:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Confused

so how _do_ we deal with these mis-behaving, immature individuals? The article doesn't offer any productive advice...strategies to use with these bad-kids in adult atire. I was actually hoping to get some idea on how to deal with the ones I am confronted with daily at work.

~disappointed again

April 22 2010 at 3:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sam

The workplace needs more information like this. Over the years I have bosses who fit into several of these bad boss categories. The temptation for the staff was always to complain among ourselves but not really learn how to handle the boss. Now that I am a boss, I am more aware of how others perceive me and how to take a "timeout" for myself, cool down, ask for feedback and listen.

April 22 2010 at 12:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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