We’re All Just Older Kids, Even at Work

By September 20, 2019 September 25th, 2019 Food for thought

Let’s make sure we’re playing in the right sandbox. Our lives depend on it.

At a recent conference in another time zone, I was among people that do the same stuff I do to some degree or another as a paid career. As we were eating lunch and getting to know one another, ‘talking shop’ as it’s called, a beautiful and intelligent woman from Arkansas said with such politeness that at her work, there is a clique group of straight up, well, toxic people who would rather sacrifice being team players over some type of desired personal gain. She’s authentic in her descriptions with confession of struggling to stay optimistic at work.

You could feel her heaviness in her heart.

Whether it be ego, habit or issues, the ones who always try to stir the pot, manipulate, sabotage, pretend to be a big deal, get lazy/complacent – there’s a full gamut of types. The whole table of professionals knew what she meant.

It’s any negative behavior that disrupts the productive ecosystem of a company, usually always occurring when the boss isn’t around, yet effecting the performance of everyone. Like the old days when the teacher left the classroom and something bad happens.

She was curious if anyone at the table has the same issue, could give her advice or at the least, help her see a silver lining.

Everyone does somehow, somewhere at some point in their lives experience what she was facing.

She continued the story and said her boss won’t confront them and everyone else is miserable. It’s the elephant in the room.

She said his solution was to restructure positions so that they would be separated and disbursed to other locations. Divide them and hope they change. Let others rub off on them. Or at least make them stop.

Right away a guy at our table from Tennessee cringes and says, “He just spread the virus…”

Correct, he did. I nodded in support of his comment and kept listening.

Even the most solid, capable teams and individuals with the right attitude and values can eventually become worn down.

Like slow, Chinese waterboarding until they give up trying. They no longer feel confronting them, acknowledging them, or reporting them will do any good. Even if it’s something that, according to the rule book you’re made to follow, it’s worth investigating because it’s serious enough to warrant a sit-down or even worse – immediate termination.

Wait, did that just happen?

When nothing happens repeatedly, or you’re told it will and it doesn’t, it slowly chips away at your rational thinking, you become defeated, and question your sanity. You question if this is the right place for you anymore.

The icing on the cake? Through repeat offenses and successful viral spreading, the culprit knows you know and that there’s nothing you can do about it. They continue on with even more validation.

What makes people behave that way?

I found it a very interesting conversation at this conference lunch table because I felt that at any time in your life, there are people, as individuals or clique-y collectives, that you have to deal with. The type that always had a motive and carried an energy vibe somewhere within the negative spectrum of attributes of people you’d clearly say, Not in my room. Stay out.

Think about it for a moment… reflect on people you gladly had exit your physical space only to haunt you in your mental one. Somehow their behavior allowed you to let them sneak in and live rent free in your head. Every stage of life, there was one there. Maybe more! It’s time to say Not. Any. More.

Easier said than done.

I listened intently as they continued sharing bad work stories because this supported my theory that we are always just kids who happened to get older. This was free research and a chance to help.

Take care of her for me, ok?

I reflected on when my realization of being an experienced big kid began last year. My beautiful Grandma mailed a picture of me posing with my baton for recital pics circa 1983.

On the back, in her perfect cursive yet noticeably frail handwriting she scribed, “Take care of this little girl for me. I Love YOU.”

<insert tears, here>

Inside every one of us is the kid we still are and will always be. We just spend more and more years on earth aging. But we are still that kid. Sure we evolve, mature, learn, grow- but our heart and soul is that same curious child.

Our intake lens of life can hardwire habits, good or bad, the longer we’ve allowed them to exist. It’s circuiting your mind to justify, excuse, create and pattern your behaviors and how you interpret the world around you. Without proper intervention at the time of breakage, you could end up a miserable adult who cannot process why you do what you do to other people, even justifying why you believe they somehow deserve it. Much harder ideations to break, but still possible – maybe – with the right wake up call.

Not today. Nope. Not today.

Its ok though, so long as they own it. We are all a work in progress. No one is perfect and acknowledging your weaknesses is the first step to improvement. Figuring out the core cause or memory trigger to why you do what you do is next. If they can explain where they are in the “I know this is wrong, I’m taking these steps to improve it” type thing.

When someone is detracting others from being their best selves, nip it in the bud or it will grow out of control –  because it’s been in their wheelhouse for a long time.

A speaker at the conference was so timely when he brought up this ongoing issue and compared it to rose bushes. Sometimes you have to cut back the bad so the good can flourish.

So nip it, nip it good.

So I guess what I am saying is, depending on the severity, I am not sure the position held by the culprit can be saved or not. Sometimes confrontation is what they need, even if it’s while you are showing them the door. You have to assess how deep the behavior is rooted. It’s not a business’ job to fix them if it’s too far – that’s what therapists are for.

Sure, provide the benefit of the doubt first – They could re-energize their performance and attitude to rebuild all the relationships they damaged. If they’re wanting to change. After that, they gots to go.

You have to look at it as a critical necessity to save the high performers and like-minded people you aspire to be. Otherwise, there’s too many anchors weighing down your engines.

O’Doyle Rules!

They’re probably the kids you would’ve avoided in kindergarten and then finally, by 5th grade you’d had enough of them. Without intervention, they added 20 years of practice to their dark craft and bring it to the workplace, drowning out even the brightest light in the place.

The sad thing is, when prolonged, there’s an aftermath of people who you would not have avoided, but already succumb to the virus and simply gave up trying. Collateral damage.

Maybe you liked them but decided if you can’t beat ‘em, disengage. They accept just getting by or you knew their intentions were good but they needed to learn some more skills and weren’t taught. Not in a way that mattered, anyway. They are the coworkers who never really bothered you to be around until something they did or didn’t do affected your immediate outcomes.

Some people just give up when they feel stuck at work with no accountability

Maybe you lost a group recess or you didn’t win the game that you should have. You missed the classroom test goals. I don’t know, you know what I’m trying to articulate. They just need legit coaching. Or ambition. Or motivation. It’s hard to tell, but you know they have the values and intentions but lost any reason to want more or they need to leave and find a new thing that puts a fire in their belly. Either way. Not helping the engine move.

They don’t stand a chance if the neurotoxins or negative energy are attacking them in the form of incivilities. It’s proven that toxic behavior hurts you just like exposure to any other neurotoxin, like lead or carbon monoxide. It just takes longer to rear it’s ugly side effects. Serving self needs at the cost of others versus helping the team win creates an invisible energy field of bad juju. I imagine it’s like living next to a huge electric power grid. Popping and sizzling waves you can’t see but someday will feel in bad ways.

These jerk frequencies aren’t just at work. You see bad behavior in action anywhere a situation may be deemed as not perfect.

What makes her tick, anyway?

The lady who complains in line at the store or goes all hardcore on their kids in the way that says they do this all the time, you know where you want to slap a sticker on her car that says, Mean people make little mean people. 

Sidebar – this is not to confuse the other scenario – those one-off breakdowns you witness in the aisle when momma finally lost it because the kid is clearly being a terd and needs verbally checked. And it works. 

It’s especially hard when the kid is more devious, calculated and knows the teacher/boss isn’t going to scold them and won’t reinforce better social skills.

Thank you, holistic teachers. You’re breaking the cycle one kid at a time.

Teachers have a huge task to go beyond the book work and try to change the behavioral trajectory these kids are on when parental intervention isn’t coming any time soon. Those that do are the good ones. Thank God for them. They make our future years of working with these folk much more tolerable. They are saving us all.

You try really, really hard to take the high road. Like trying not to breathe in a really stinky bathroom. But it can get in your nose if you aren’t fighting the virus all the time, without rest.

It can be challenging to consciously decide good over bad every single day when it wears on you. This video might help if you’re struggling at this very moment. Doesn’t justify bad behavior, just reinforces being curious, not furious.

Don’t let mean people make more mean people.

Great teachers, leaders, bosses, mentors, wiser kids – they’re at least trying to help spare the rest of us a life long struggle of working with behavior like that until we retire and die. If your child is being bullied, you take action. The same is for anyone at any age and in any place. You take action and protect the one that’s trying hard to be a good performer.

There’s a lot of leaders who do though. They do exist.

Be memorable in a bright way

I bet every one of you that has a favorite teacher that inspired you, that you never forgot, was the one that did try to examine and change the trajectory of the hurtful viruses. And usually, when they did, they had the majority of the class exhaling a sigh of relief.

To be productive, you’ve got to be you in an environment that allows you to have fun learning and laughing and being engaged. Not easy- just free of debris.

There have been many teachers in my children’s lives over the years. And only a handful of crappy ones. Some of the stories my kids told me were shake-my-head-no-way-that-happened situations and if no one was hurt, I would suggest that it’ll give them even more character one day when they have the chance to be mentor. If they choose to lead.

Bad behaved people can teach you very valuable lessons. I’m not saying we live in a vacuum. It’s when you’re stuck with them in your day to day life that the danger rolls in. Like a sitting duck.

At least whoever my adult children end up working with someday, they’ll have the life skills to identify what’s not right and the confidence to address the behavior head-on, respectfully.

Coworkers, clients, civilians, children, wherever the bad egg begins to test their limits – I want them prepared with that gravitas type grace to help everyone, even if it’s hard to discuss. Without confrontation, they continue to hurt both of you and everyone else in their wake of destruction. Eventually your health, wealth and sanity from justifying too much dysfunction in your life takes a painful toll. Who wants that?!

Well, Jack, you have to try anyway.

I’ve had a couple of polite conversations with that very small percent of miserable teachers I felt I need to clarify facts with to make sure I understand what went down without some type of intervention. I will never forget a 4th-grade conference I went to with my son present, after having more than one occurrence where he came home with a sad face.

At one point in her authoritative rant, I had to stop her. I asked her if she thinks my child is on track to grow up and be a nice person.

When she said yes, she went on and on about how kind, considerate he was and how he’ll help other kids struggling after he turns his work in right away. So I nicely suggested she back off because that’s my priority and she needs to stop being so hard on him. I can’t believe his parent-teacher conference was nothing but a small folder of his three worst graded papers of the semester. They were B’s! She said he wasn’t trying that day and should know better. I said yeah, you probably yelled at him for something insignificant and crushed his performance button.

I wasn’t furious. I was curious. You can’t fight mean with mean. It just keeps fueling it.

Facilitate Trust with the Good.

I feel one of the hardwired skills I’ve gained is the result of standing up to what’s right – in much more severe ways and situations than I publicly share for probably around 15 very long years. And then, I continued spending two more decades of internal processing, trying to see my triggers, what all this means, my purpose and then some. It’s been a long haul, so maybe that’s why I’m over it.

Even my early years of working at a juvenile correctional facility, where you were hired to deal with the most exaggerated, criminal, sometimes just downright absurd mental reasoning for behaviors that are also just as out there to talk about here. From wall smeared menstruation to decisions to eat thumbtacks, it could get real sometimes. And dangerous. Let’s just say it could lead to getting jumped or attacked without warning. You had to be prepared to safely stop the altercation without any injuries of either person.

Sidebar – not everyone at that facility was on a path of self destruction. There’s actually several girls that today are nowhere even close to that place they and overcame some unbelievable cases. They moved on to have a lot of the same types of ‘aha’ experiences that we have, which made them stronger when they figured it all out.

Imagine working in that type of environment AND still having internal team drama to boot! The teens observed. They saw it. They knew everything.

I learned skills there like how to be perfectly calm in all-out chaos, while processing other people through it, too. I learned a lot about myself and my strengths, creating confidence I began to find again through the years of surviving abuse.

When I think about that state institution, now nearly 18 years past, I hope I’m remembered fondly by everyone because I always confronted behaviors constructively, protected the genuine, and coached those caught up in complaining negatively to guide their trajectory with a new perspective to think about. No one should sweep anything under the rug. Ever.

That’s all you gotta do. Clear out the bad. The sooner the better.

Then, at least if they are behaving badly and you gotta have that uncomfortable talk, you have it and get to the root cause. Maybe the motive wasn’t hard-wired. Maybe they weren’t aware they were even doing it. Maybe it’s a habit because they didn’t correctly process crap they experienced at different chapters of life that were disappointing.

Who knows.

Life is too short to tolerate bad behavior. Even when it’s good people doing it. I mess up. I own it. I want to be better. Some people don’t want to get better, just be curious, not furious and figure out their intentions. You’ll know. You’ll feel the vibe. Everyone else knows it, too.

If your company leaders aren’t going to deal with it, and you find yourself getting intolerant from a lack of support, you know, squeaky wheels get the grease scenario – it’s time to figure out a plan for you.

You’ve come too far to spend the best years of your middle-aged childhood to slow your performance, your growth and your goals. It’s a matter of life and health. Don’t believe me?

Check this out. It’s scientifically proven! Your inner trapped child will thank you. Set yourself free. Take care of that little girl or boy inside you, ok?


What are your thoughts on this tough, common subject?

Do you think it’s ok to ignore it? Do you think it’s ok to say, “Every job has at least one, you just get used to it?”

Thanks for reading.


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