Stop Being Nice and Provoke Responsible Behavior

In my recent post, we looked at what to do when we’re left in the uncomfortable position of “holding the bag” and I suggested a straightforward 7-step process for calling others on broken agreements.

It’s a great process. And it’s simple. But it can be very difficult to apply. Why?

Many of us have one or more emotional blocks to effectively calling others on irresponsible behavior.

To better position ourselves to use the approach, let’s look at what makes it seem easier to “hold the bag” than to confront others when they let us down.

We’ve all been in dozens of situations where co-workers’ behavior was irresponsible, in direct violation of a promise, or damaging to our productivity. It hurts.

So, why do we tolerate someone’s irresponsible or damaging behavior? In my experience, most of us feel one of two basic emotional responses, or “blocks,” to taking responsible action:

  1. the need to be nice
  2. the addiction to criticism

Needing to be nice — or to be seen as being nice — is evidence that we need social approval more than we need inner congruence.

Social approval is great to have. We all need and enjoy it. But as health professionals tell us, when social approval is in conflict with our personal experience, it actually becomes a destructive force in our lives. It’s called lying.

To overcome this block, we can reduce our willingness to tolerate irresponsible behavior and increase our “provocability,” that is our ability to show what really happens inside us  when someone’s behavior hurts us.

When we chose to show our true–provocable–response to irresponsibility, we actually foster greater collaboration with others.

How? Because provocability signals integrity. And it’s integrity that builds trust between co-workers, not apparent–but false–tolerance.

Provocability is part of a collaborative communication strategy called “tit-for-tat.” To play tit-for-tat, start interactions with cooperative behavior and, after that, match your co-worker’s behavior. If they cooperate, then you cooperate. If they are uncooperative, or defect on you in some way, then show provocability.

Call them on their uncooperative behavior and let them know you hold them responsible for the relationship: they can have it be cooperative or uncooperative. It’s up to them.

Then match their moves. When used compassionately and proactively, tit-for-tat is a great strategy for teaching others how to cooperate with you.

Get started with this week’s 5-Minute Practice Tip:

Provocability is best learned by removing small tolerations first. They’re easier to call. Today, pay conscious attention when a co-worker bugs you slightly.

Here is a hint: When you’re “bugged,” you’re provoked — that is, the other person’s behavior is in some way unproductive or uncooperative in relation to you.

Use the 7-step process to show an appropriate level of provocability. Remember, if you’ve been tolerating a particular behavior for some time, a relationship pattern has been set and your demonstration of provocability can be seen as “over-the-top.” Start small and easy, then build.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

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6 Responses to Stop Being Nice and Provoke Responsible Behavior

  1. Hi Christoper,

    thanks a lot for sharing your ideas and practices, they have such a high value!

    I think it’s very important to provoke in some situations like being hurt from an irresponsible behaviour in a collaboration or something like that. On the other side of the coin, provoking feels very negative for most people, even if it make sense when it’s seen from a ‘neutral’ perspective. As you already mentioned it in your last post, you need to be very sensitive when such situations occur…

    I’d like to suggest a technique which I often use and I know it from my education and work on becoming a Co-Active Coach and it’s part of the CTI program.
    It’s called the designed alliance.

    You can create a ‘designed Alliance’ with teams, with co-workers, with management… You can create it for a collaboration and even with your spouse or your kids as well.

    A ‘designed Alliance’ creates a safe environment for receiving and giving feedback when issues or problems occur. It’s a little bit like a manifest how you would like to work together, about what to take care about and how to handle problems, issues or impediments.
    You can create it within relationships, no, you should create one!

    In addition, a ‘designed Alliance’ makes it easier for people to mention misbehaviour. I suggest it would be a great backing for using the 7 steps for a conversation about broken agreements or something similar.

  2. What a great title for a really incredible topic. “Provoke responsible behavior” is such a great phrase. When we are honest with those around us and bring up things as they happen in a responsible, appropriate manner, we can level-set behaviors and expectations from the start. When you let things go without addressing them in the beginning, they can spiral out of control. Thank you for sharing such a great insight, Christopher.

  3. Christopher says:

    Thanks for your ongoing interest and support Maria. You are amazing.

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