Six Steps to Transform Undesirable Behavior to Desirable Behavior


Failing to take decisive action to address people with problem behaviors can ruin reputations, results and relationships. For this reason, I acted promptly when a manager refused to participate during a leadership-training workshop in Scandinavia. Because the involvement of all attendees was critical to achieving the workshop’s objectives, immediate action was required.
Speaking privately with the uncooperative manager, I gave him the option of either staying and engaging with his colleagues, or of leaving. He decided to stay. On that occasion, decisive action prevented the worst and brought out the best in the protagonist, who used his resistance that day to craft a compelling message that became the highlight of the program. For further details, view our case study: The Value of Taking Decisive Action.

My business philosophy is, “hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” If it’s yours too, here is a six-step process to handle people who exhibit undesirable behavior:

1. Verify the situation’s desired outcomes.
To establish the most effective course of action ask yourself this question: What is in the best interest of the parties involved?

2. Identify feasible options.
Based on the best interest of those involved AND their ability to achieve the specified outcome(s) above, identify appropriate options for the person exhibiting the undesirable behavior.

3. Spell out the consequences of each option.
This step has a twofold function. First, it helps the person think through the effects or concomitant risks of each option. Next, it slows down any escalation so that he/she can use reason rather than reactive emotions to make a sound decision. For instance: 

“If you stay, you get this benefit e.g., you’re with the group, you improve your ability to influence, etc. If you don’t stay, these are the consequences e.g., you’ll attract undesired attention from your boss, you’ll miss out on a safe environment to test new skills, etc.”

4. Set terms and conditions.
Once you provide the individual with options, set the terms and conditions with which he/she must comply so he/she can make an informed decision. Describe these expectations in behavioral terms so the improvement is evident to an observing third party.

For example: “If you stay, it means that you participate actively. By that I mean (then specify). It does NOT mean you sit here without speaking or doing what is asked of everyone else. If you choose not to participate, then your decision is to leave. And that choice is yours alone.”

5. Request the decision.
If possible, offer the individual a set amount of time to make a choice rather than demanding an answer on the spot. This allows the person to fully own the outcome rather than to make a rash decision or speak impulsively simply to escape immediate pressure.

6. Monitor and reset as needed.
What if the individual chooses to stay and doesn’t respect the terms agreed to? You immediately remind him/her, in private, “You committed to doing specific things and you are not holding up your side of the bargain. Either you must follow through as promised, or leave now.”

Handling people who display undesirable behavior is a critical leadership skill. It also comes in handy in social and personal situations. Following these six steps will help ensure that you can mitigate or avoid any harm caused by disruptive behavior to your reputation, results, or relationships.

Contact me if you need some coaching or would like additional ideas about how to take decisive action to keep your projects or relationships on track.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email