Sue had little hope that doing this would make a difference. But it did. To her amazement, the manager not only began to treat Sue with respect, but also became more reasonable and less belligerent with everyone in the department. By daring to say “stop,” Sue had accomplished what no one else had dared to do.
After the seminar, I began telling people about Sue’s experience. In response, several of them described similar experiences of their own. Some of these experiences were with peers. Some were with executives. A few, like Sue’s, were with customers. Many of the people confronted not only apologized, but subsequently became a source of support.
Obviously, confronting negative, inappropriate, or troublesome behavior doesn’t always transform it into something positive. Nor is it risk-free. Still, in the case of Ms. MoanGroan—remember her? The complainer extraordinaire?—there wasn’t much to lose by trying. I wish someone had dared to step forward, because sometimes, simply saying “I don’t like it. Please stop” is all it takes to stop the aggravating behavior. But no one did.
If you face a similar situation and want to try to discourage someone’s off-putting behavior, think carefully about how you’ll do it. While discussing with one particular team how they might deal with a customer much like Ms. MoanGroan, one team member suggested they try a personal approach. He proposed that they find ways to compliment the customer and comment on mementos and family photos in the customer’s office. I urged caution. A little such attention might help; a lot, maybe not. Imagine, after all, if all ten members of the team, one by one, wandered into the customer’s office the next week, gushing, “Oh, what beautiful grandchildren you have!”
Whatever approach you select to reverse problem behavior, do it in moderation and consider how it might backfire before you proceed. Then again, Sue didn’t analyze the pros and cons before confronting the manager who had mistreated her. She did what she felt she had to do— and it worked. Her experience remains a lesson for me, and perhaps for you as well.