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Management by Coaching

Stop it

The seven destructive behaviors that are killing your effectiveness

By Kimberly Paterson, CEC

What is the difference between people who reach the top of their professions and those who, while good at their jobs, never quite get there? Pay close attention to people and how they relate to others and the answer quickly becomes clear.

Recently I participated in two separate meetings with a major insurance company with which I work. The first meeting was with five business heads—all very smart, experienced and technically competent. For 90 minutes we talked about a project that stood to help the company meet their ambitious new business goal. When the meeting ended, there were no conclusions and no clear next steps. The only thing we likely agreed on was how annoying and frustrating some of our colleagues were to work with. The second meeting, with the company's CEO and the four-person project team, was a radically different experience. In less than half the time, we agreed on a concept and clear next steps. We left the meeting energized, enthusiastic and ready to get to work.

In reflecting on the two meetings, I realized that the CEO's success didn't lie in his brilliant insights or talent for inspiring others. It was more about what he didn't do than what he did do. He simply lacked the annoying behaviors so prevalent among his business heads.

If you work with others, you experience these annoying behaviors every day. They hurt relationships, sabotage teamwork, kill good ideas and hamper progress.

To put it bluntly, some of these behaviors may make people dread dealing with you. If you're like most of us human beings, you're guilty of a number of them. The more frequently you use them, the more you reduce your power and influence as well as your ability to work with others.

Over the next 30 days, pay close attention to your interactions with others.

The first time I did this exercise for myself I was shocked at how often and unconsciously I indulged in these behaviors. How about you?

Winning too much—Do you find yourself needing to win even when the outcome doesn't really matter? You know this is you when you have to have the last word in every e-mail volley and you find yourself arguing over who scored the final touchdown in Super Bowl IX.

Winning is deeply engrained in our culture. At work, winning shows up as the need to be right because if we're not right, that means we must be wrong. The embarrassment and humiliation of being wrong is a blow to our ego. The same holds true for others. Each time we prove ourselves right with a colleague or client, we make them wrong. The continuous blows we deliver to their egos are a surefire way to destroy relationships.

Passing judgment—Do you find yourself needing to weigh in and rate every idea? You may tell yourself that you're being supportive of your colleagues, but what you're really doing is positioning yourself as the chief arbiter of what is good and bad, right and wrong. You hold yourself out as being superior to your colleagues.

Adding too much value—Are you born to improve? Even when someone's work is sound, are you compelled to make it better? We tell ourselves it's an admirable trait, but left unchecked it can be destructive. Consider this example: John, an agency principal, had asked his personal lines CSRs to develop a plan for how the department could increase the policy count per customer. This type of project was a first for the team. They worked on it for weeks and were very enthused with their final product. John was impressed too, but he couldn't resist the urge to take the plan to the next level. By the time John was finished adding value, the plan no longer belonged to the team. Their buy-in and sense of ownership were lost.

Excusing yourself—Do you excuse your flaw, openly admitting to yourself and others that you have bad memory, you're not a detail person, you get impatient or that you have a hot temper? Do you chalk off your inexcusably bad behavior as if it is a genetic flaw that you can't change? People don't buy that for a second. In their hearts they believe that if you care enough, you could change your behavior.

Telling the world how smart you are—Do you find yourself always trying to show the world how good you really are? We do this in a million subtle and not so subtle ways. Let's say one of your colleagues goes out of her way to give you a heads-up on some trends she's seeing in the second quarter sales report—before your afternoon sales meeting. Instead of expressing appreciation to her for keeping you informed, you say, "Yes I already knew that." This is about a need to remind the world how smart we are. What your colleague hears is, "Why are you bothering me with that? I'm already five steps ahead of you." Next time she won't be so quick to share. Being smart turns people on; telling them how smart we are turns them off.

Killing others' ideas—When ideas or possible solutions are presented, do you find yourself saying ''yes . . . but?" No matter how gentle your tone is or how nice you sound on the surface, the message to the other person is "you're wrong." Nothing productive can come out of this kind of remark. It only stifles conversation.

Focusing on your own achievement rather than others' success—Are you too focused on your own achievement at the expense of recognizing others? Do you claim more credit for successes than you really deserve? Most of us do. It's a well-documented psychological phenomenon that we tend to attribute positive outcomes to ourselves and negative outcomes to something or someone else.

Nothing ticks people off more than when you fail to give them proper recognition for their efforts. Leaders pay attention to the successes of others and they are generous in giving recognition.

Concentrate on stopping the bad behavior, not on adopting a new one.

Sitting here calmly reading this article, it's easy to be analytical about our behavior and how we may be impacting others. Changing that behavior when we're in the trenches trying to get business done is hard. We can do it for a while but things tend to fall apart when the pressure mounts. That's because substituting a new behavior for a deeply engrained one is a complex psychological process—one that our brains are programmed to resist.

Instead of working to adopt a new behavior, simply stop the offending behavior. That bad behavior is what's getting you into trouble. Think of it this way: If you're a rough, tough, no-nonsense manager, don't try to become a "Mr. Nice-Guy." Just stop being a jerk. Instead of trying to be more tactful in getting your point across, stop making so many points. Next time you go to say something, stop, take a breath, and ask yourself if what you are going to say is really necessary. Will it add to the conversation? You will be amazed at how often the smartest thing you can do is to say nothing.

Being at the top of your game

Whether you own the business, manage a department, or are a sales professional, being the best at what you do isn't about technical skills, experience or how smart you are. When you reach a certain level, those characteristics are the "price of admission." The most effective leaders are those who have learned to manage the toughest job of all—getting along with others. That takes a high level of self-awareness, empathy, a clear understanding of how their behavior impacts others and a healthy dose of self-control.

The author

Kimberly Paterson is a business and Certified Energy Leadership Coach. She is president of CIM (, where she works with insurance organizations to build the vision, strategy, customer insight and leadership skills to energize people and achieve outstanding results. She can be reached at

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