How often have you felt pressured to behave in ways you’re uncomfortable with but feel are necessary to fit in or get ahead in a corporate environment?
In our research (analyzing more than 100,000 responses), we have identified four kinds of self-protecting behavior (approval-seeking, easily offended, dependent, avoiding) and four kinds of self-promoting behavior (sarcastic, competitive, controlling, striving) that contribute to ineffective culture. We call these “below-the-line” behaviors.
These eight behaviors often seem to drive results at first, and many of us have used them to play the political game and get ahead. Eventually, however, these behaviors take their toll, leaving people disengaged, cynical, and ready to walk away from corporate life entirely.
Additionally, according to our research, people who use these behaviors more regularly are perceived as being low to moderate in terms of work effectiveness. This seems to suggest that, although these behaviors may have worked to some degree in the past, they are holding us back from the future.
Understanding Below-the-Line Behaviors
It helps to realize that most ineffective behaviors are born out of good intentions overridden by self-limiting fear or ego-driven pride.
For example, the desire for approval is innate in all of us. However, for people who struggle with self-protecting approval-seeking, fear of rejection can drive a deep need for validation that shows up as people-pleasing. This approval-seeking behavior robs a person and the people around them of authentic opinions and relationships.
Easily offended behavior stems from taking others’ remarks or feedback too personally. We see others’ comments as a personal attack and become overly sensitive, so people start walking on eggshells around us and stop giving us any feedback at all.
Dependent behavior means we don’t have the courage or confidence to trust our own opinions or perceptions. We let others make decisions, follow their directions, and don’t speak up.
Avoiding behavior stems from the good intention of not offending or upsetting others, but fear of rejection keeps us from dealing with conflict or taking risks. Avoiding behavior can keep us from holding ourselves accountable or being authentic with ourselves and others. We end up creating artificial harmony.
The good intention behind self-promoting sarcastic behavior is often an attempt to build relationships with others — but if we don’t have a strong enough sense of authenticity to be sincere, we revert to cynicism, sarcasm, and quick-witted comments to relate to others.
Competitive behavior is based in a good intention of wanting to be the best we can be, but it can lead to constantly comparing ourselves to others. It can push us to exaggerate, manipulate, and even cheat.
Controlling behavior means we become deeply attached to outcomes and what we think those outcomes will prove about us. We become focused on ensuring everything goes according to our plans and tasks are completed our way on our timelines. We may get results, but stress levels and antagonism will run high.
Striving, or perfectionism, overrides the good intention to achieve excellence. Instead, we become focused on avoiding all mistakes — and thus any chance of rejection. The resulting perfectionism can lead us to become workaholics, to be overly critical of ourselves and others, and to suffer from thoughts of never being good enough. Read more here…