Tag Archives: benign neutrality

Benign Neutrality: Breaking the Cycle of Rude Behavior

More often than not, leaders will encounter rude behavior in the workplace. This behavior can quickly escalate into a cycle of negative behavior that is difficult to break using traditional approaches.

If you practice benign neutrality, Then you will break the cycle of rude behavior so that you can interact in a civil way.

Rude Behavior

Everyone experiences or witnesses rude behavior on a weekly basis. It may be as simple as person ignoring another’s opinion or as nasty as undermining someone’s efforts. If you respond or react to the behavior, you run the risk of escalating it. If you don’t deal with it, it becomes a self-maintaining cycle. Not only will it thwart your effort to get the job done, you may become burnt out as a result. It will also impact others around you, at work and at home.

Cycle of Behavior

When in a cycle of rude behavior, you may lose focus on what is important and the behavior may become toxic. Do not take it on. Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel safe talking with this person?
  • Was the behavior unintentional?
  • Was it an isolated incident?

If you answer no to any of the questions then do not discuss it with the offender. Once the behavior has continued for an extended period, being nice, giving feedback, practicing ongoing regard, and apologizing can actually make things worse. Conversely, if you over react and try too obviously to “distance” yourself, or report the problem, you may also cause harm. Instead, manage yourself using benign neutrality.

What is Benign Neutrality?

The mindset of Benign Neutrality is to remain interactive and civil with a rude person so that you can work together. Be professional, polite, non-threatening, impartial, and free of emotion. Do not shut down, avoid, display indifference, or ignore the other person completely. Act with humility and respect. This will not weaken your position but instead, it redirects the conversation to a position of: “We need to work together. What do we need to do to move this forward?”

Use the lowest level on the ladder of inference to describe: “This is what I observe; this is the data we have.” Don’t attempt to validate assumptions. Listen. Think before you speak. Ask yourself:

“Is what I am about to say: …brief? …on topic? …useful and accurate?             Does it need to be said?”

Stand firm with your statements. Don’t ask a question unless you are genuinely interested in the other person’s response. If the other person is unreasonable, use these questions:

  • I’m feeling stuck. Do you have any ideas?
  • What data or logic will change your mind?
  • How can we get more information?
  • If you were in my place how would you proceed?
  • Can you tell me how your idea impacts this situation?
  • How can I express this in a way that respects your views?
  • What is it about this situation (or me) that is making this difficult?
  • How can we work together to get this done?

Questions to Deepen Thinking

How is your approach to dealing with rude people working?
What are the consequences of shutting down and evading people with rude behavior?
If you treat people who exhibit rude behavior with humility and respect, what will that get you?

 Credits
Argyris, C. (1982). Reasoning, learning, and action: Individual and organizational. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Inc. Pub.
Porath, C. (2016, April). Managing Yourself: An Antidote to Incivility. Harvard Business Review, pp. 108-111.
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