Growing 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.
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.