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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Behaviour management

An article out this week by Bianca Healy discusses toxic workplaces with as many as 9 out of 10 people indicating that they have had experience with either ‘toxic’ individuals or cultures. Certainly when conducting organisational investigations it is a term commonly used by all the stakeholders and it generates a great deal of emotion and strong opinions of what is and what isn’t ‘toxic’ behaviour.

Healey says, based on the research conducted by those surveyed that ”everything rises and falls on leadership.” Certainly leaders can ”set a tone” either through their own behaviours where they reinforce aggressive and manipulative conduct.

Or leaders can perpetuate toxic cultures by ignoring behaviours and failing to hold to account those team members who undermine workplace harmony and respectful attitudes. This unfortunately validates individual negative behaviours and leads to an entrenched culture which can be very damaging but also resistant to later efforts to improve workplace conduct and attitudes.

A real test of leadership is where you inherit a toxic workplace. Why can some leaders turn this around? I would love to hear your experiences of how this was done. What worked? What didn’t?

Click below for the Healey article:
HRM Debate: What are the best ways to fight toxic workplace culture?

ACIM Solutions offers a range of programs and services to manage and investigative ‘toxic’ workplace cultures.  Please get in touch if you would like more information on investigating workplace bullying or short courses to upskill staff on emotional intelligence, resilience and leadership.

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You’ve probably heard of the term ‘emotional intelligence' (EI)  which was popularised by psychologist and science journalist Dr Daniel Goldman in the mid 1990s.  

His book Emotional Intelligence was on The New York Times bestseller list for 18 months and later translated into 40 languages worldwide. Over five million copies of the book are now in print and a number of spin-off books by the author and others have followed.

So what does EI really mean and why is it such a big deal in the workplace?

Goldman’s groundbreaking ideas centred on the notion that people who have strong self-awareness, self-restraint/self-control, motivation, empathy and people skills, can and often do achieve more success in life than others who may have higher intelligence or IQ scores, but can’t demonstrate the same abilities interacting with people.   

Twenty years and thousands of behavioural research papers on, emotional intelligence is now widely regarded as the special ‘X-factor’ that helps some people achieve more than their peers. People with high EI will progress to leadership roles and other sought-after positions within the workplace, often over people who are technically stronger or rated as ‘more intelligent.’

The good news is, unlike our IQ which is pretty much set for life from childhood, EI can be learned and improved over time by anyone, at any age. We now know the brain has far more ‘plasticity’ than previously thought. However, you will need patience, determination and a willingness to practise your EI skills at every opportunity. It’s like developing a new muscle – the more you use it, the stronger and more noticeable it becomes.

Here’s some practical ideas for building your EI at work:

1.  Start with your self-awareness.  

Take an EI quiz to determine your current capability levels in this area. Ask a trusted colleague or friend to help you identify your triggers,  your strengths and weaknesses are in terms of your personal insights and how well you relate to other people. Decide what specific area/s you need to work on most and set yourself small achievable goals each week.

2.  Listen to your own inner sound track.  

Are you naturally an optimist or pessimist? What tune are you singing to yourself each day? Negative thoughts and patterns of behaviour can build up over years and be hard to change. If you catch yourself thinking the worst about yourself or somebody else, try to reframe those thoughts in a more positive way. Recognise the power of negative self talk on your emotional well being.

3.  Be curious about other people and try to really empathise with what they might be feeling or experiencing.  

Listen carefully to what they’re saying without making any judgements about them. Watch their body language for any non-verbal cues and try to give genuine positive feedback to others whenever you can.

4.  Practise your self-restraint and self-control.  

Next time someone says or does something that triggers negative emotions in you at work, take a deep breath and resist the urge to react.  You may say something in the heat of the moment that you later regret. Even the act of showing restraint is empowering.  If it’s important, make a note to discuss it with them later when you can compose yourself professionally. Don’t hold grudges – it takes up too much valuable energy!  Learn from past mistakes (yours and others), then let them go.  

5.  Check your ‘gratitude attitude’.  

Your job may not be perfect but do you have a great team, the opportunity to help others, a comfortable office or maybe even work in a really convenient location, close to home? This isn’t just Pollyanna stuff. Role model the language of gratitude. After a while it will become part of your thinking habit and won’t require as much conscious thought to remember all the positives. Researchers have also found that people who take the time to work on their gratitude attitude each day, report increased energy levels, more positive moods and a greater sense of physical well being.

6.  Learn to embrace change, rather than fearing it.  

Change is predictable but it still fills people with fear. Switch your lens. Change is also an important part of renewal and growth in nature and in business. Anticipate it, talk about it and normalise it through your language and your behaviours. Be disciplined and challenge yourself when you automatically start to associate change with negative thoughts. The ability to respond flexibly and adapt to change is another characteristic of people with high EI.

7.  Practise good self care.  

Regular exercising, getting enough sleep, limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake, making time for relaxation and eating sensibly can all help you regulate your emotions and be the best ‘you’ you can be – at home and at work.

For more great practical ideas about how we can help you or your team, please contact us.

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Some workplace roles involve managing potentially or actual heightened or volatile situations on a regular basis. 

Circumstances can arise when behaviours extend past ‘difficult’ and into challenging conduct which requires more sophisticated skill sets in order to positively respond and manage. Unfortunately, managing situations that involve elevated emotions and potential physical harm in workplaces is increasing.

Challenging behaviour can be described as ‘those behaviours that threaten the quality of life and/or physical safety of an individual or others’.* It sometimes exists on a continuum and may include one or more of the following:

  • open or passive aggression
  • physical or emotional harassment (e.g. verbal abuse or threats, bullying, racism, stalking)
  • refusing to co-operate with authority figures
  • refusing to comply with organisational codes of conduct, policies and procedures
  • theft or property damage.
  • self-harm, including alcohol or drug abuse

* Source

So how do you cope with these types of behaviours, reduce potential harm and restore calm in the workplace?

The key is in developing the skills to respond rather than react.

This is much harder than you might think because like all animals, humans are hard-wired to react in either a ‘fight or flight’ mode in threatening situations. Overriding our instinctive reactions takes skill, practice and commitment. 

Here are our top ‘DOs’ and ‘DON’Ts’ for de-escalating heightened situations in the workplace:

1.  DO stay calm so you can think rationally and use your professional judgement to assess the risks.

2.  DO focus on your communication skills. Use a calm, neutral tone of voice and be very conscious of your language so as not to inflame the situation.

3.  DO listen respectfully to the person. Ask open-ended questions to identify the issues and reply using ‘reflective listening’ skills to show that you are paying attention. Allow the person ‘vent’ and don’t interrupt them.

4.  DO be clear, concise and unemotional about what you are seeking from them. Using simple language, outline the impact of their behaviour(s) on others and the workplace as a whole.  Calmly explain the boundaries for behaviour and the consequences of non-compliance in terms of simple choices.

5.  DON’T be afraid of silences in the conversation. They may feel long and awkward to you but they are giving the other person breathing space and time to think about what you’ve said, reflect on their current situation and make decisions about what they do next.

6.  DO focus on your non-verbal communication skills. These are the most critical skills in a heightened situation – be very conscious of the signals you may be (inadvertently) sending.  In particular, using some eye contact (if culturally appropriate) to communicate during heated situations is vital.

7.  DON’T ever turn your back on someone behaving erratically or aggressively. If possible, try to put some kind of physical barrier (e.g. a desk or chair) between you and the other person.

8.  DO stand at a slight angle away from the other person, rather than facing them head-on which could be construed as confrontational.  

9.  DON’T respond to challenging questions or personal provocations. If the person questions your authority, redirect the conversation to the issue at hand.  

10.  DO respond immediately if you feel physically threatened. Use an open-handed pushback with your hand out at shoulder level in front of you.  Include clear verbal instructions, e.g. ‘Stop! Get back!’

11.  DON’T be a hero and physically intervene unless it is completely unavoidable.

12.  DO de-brief with others involved after the event. It may help you to deal with the stress of what happened, get a better understanding of how the situation unfolded and plan more effectively for the future.

For more information on options to develop skills in managing challenging behaviours for yourself or your teams, please contact us.

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As professional mediators, the PSW HR Solutions team are often asked by clients for advice about how to handle difficult conversations in the workplace.  

It is a predictable part of working life that we will need to have difficult conversations with clients, staff and stakeholders at some point. Many managers rely on their position to ‘manage’ people rather than developing the skills to lead through engagement and the ability to influence. 

Proactively managing difficult conversations can be a litmus test for many people in the workplace.  Unfortunately, many people find the process intimidating and go to great lengths to avoid a personal conversation.  Alternatively, a clumsy response can inflame the potential conflict which makes the situation even more uncomfortable for everyone!

When handled well, difficult conversations can be a good thing.  

They create opportunities for people to find common ground, confirm expectations around behaviour and performance and create improved understanding. Open and personal communication allows ongoing organisational problems/ festering issues that often affect others in the workplace to be positively managed. Confident management of challenging conversations can be the catalyst for new or improved workplace practices and processes being implemented. They may even create the space for new perspectives to be considered and/or result in a change in management direction or thinking.

So how do you get from the ‘Houston, we have a problem’ stage to sustainable positive outcomes? 

A great place to start is with your preparation and planning skills. Here are our top tips to improve your confidence in managing even the hardest workplace conversations:

1.  Prepare before the discussion. Consider time, date and place. Your goal is to progress the situation positively, not make it worse. Reflect on what the key points of the discussion need to be so you can stay focused and don’t get side-tracked or forget important things you need to mention.  The location can be critical in platforming positive outcomes – where is the best location to raise contentious issues?

2.  Do your research to ensure the information you intend to provide is accurate. Distinguish between opinions, hearsay and facts. Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s motives or intentions – and don’t assume that they will be able to see things from your point of view.

3.  Be clear in your own mind about what you want to achieve from the conversation.  Are you just trying to raise the other person’s awareness of a difficult issue or aiming for a change in work performance, personal attitude or behaviour?  Try to summarise your goal/s in two or three short sentences. What outcome from the discussion would you consider to be a satisfactory result? Can it be measured. If so, how?

4.  What will your opening statement be? This could set the tone for the entire conversation so think about it carefully. Mentally rehearse what you want to say in your mind. Picture yourself calmly outlining what the issues and impacts are for the individual concerned, the team, and the workplace as a whole. Can you think of a way to start and finish on a positive and supporting note? 

5.  How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of the information that you will provide? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would you feel fear, embarrassment, anger or shame?  Anticipate and prepare for the person to ‘vent’ or become emotional.  Anticipate the range of reactions and plan for those responses.

5.  Focus on your communication skills – verbal, non verbal and active listening skills. Keep the language around the discussion as objective and unemotional as possible. Your capacity to communicate assertively and confidently will be a key factor in your ability to manage difficult conversations positively. 

6.  Consider what your role may have been in the situation. Don’t just rely on your own judgement.  Ask a trusted colleague for their perspective. You may not be fully aware how your own actions or words have influenced the behaviour, attitude or decisions of others.  If, on reflection, you feel you may be at fault in some way, be prepared to be honest and open about your part in the matter.

7.  Show respect for the other person. Don’t ambush them with an unexpected meeting or tip-toe around the subject in fear of an imminent explosion. Be courageous and clearly articulate the reason for needing to have the conversation, i.e. be specific about the issue/s you want to talk about.  Book an agreed date and time to have the discussion. Most people appreciate a direct approach and authenticity far more than side-steps and false camaraderie.

8.  Be prepared to allow the other person to help come up with a solution or next steps forward.  This will show that you are listening, being open and flexible.  It may also mean the other party is more likely to respect and abide by whatever actions are agreed upon as a result of the discussion.

If you would like to speak to the PSW HR Solutions team about working with your management and leadership teams on how to handle the difficult conversations, please get in touch.

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How well would the stakeholders in your organisation rate your performance management program?

Do your teams find it motivating and engaging?

Does the program have credibility with team members or managers?

All organisations aim for a performance management process that adds value to a business, encourages positive performance and provides an effective framework to deal with performance gaps.

The previous blog focused on the first three parts of an effective performance management framework:

  1. Ensuring integration of HR Policies that directly impact on performance
  2. The use of position descriptions in building accountability
  3. Goal and performance indicator setting

The Performance Management Process

The next part of the program relates to the way the performance management process is conducted.

To assess how well you are travelling, please consider the following questions:

  • How regularly do you review performance in a structured way? 
  • Does your existing process encourage engagement from both the employee and the manager?
  • Are you acknowledging your teams in a meaningful way?
  • Do you seek genuine two-way feedback?
  • Does the (resource intensive) process motivate or disengage the stakeholders?
  • Do you gather useful information for the team member to reflect on their performance, but also to provide the organisation information to undertake more strategic HR analysis (for example, L&D, succession planning)?
  • Are the scoring systems transparent and accountable to build confidence and integrity in the system by the stakeholders?

Organisations need to regularly seek feedback on the way performance is ‘managed’. 

 In light of that feedback, review your process and ensure that your program includes: 

  • Adequate timeframes so that both manager and team member can reflect and prepare for the discussion
  • Provision to address past performance and focus on future goals
  • The integration of relevant data
  • Sufficient opportunity for both manager and team members to contribute and make comment
  • An acknowledgement of high performance and achievement of goals
  • A mutually agreed plan for addressing opportunities for improvement
  • Development goals for the future
  • A format that is streamlined and maximises data capture for both the team member and the wider organisation

Skills in the performance management conversation

The last, and most important part of the framework, is ensuring managers and supervisors are equipped to make the most of the opportunity to engage people around performance management. 

This can be a very difficult conversation for many to have and unfortunately I see that lack of confidence manifest in ways such as delaying or avoiding performance conversations for extended periods. This usually creates further problems for the workplace as both good and poor performance is not appropriately addressed.

Fortunately many of the skills can be taught! If you would like to know more about how to maximise performance management in your organisation, please contact us.

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Feedback from customers, as well as internal and external organisational stakeholders, provides us with a valuable opportunity to identify ways to continuously improve human resource management across the business. 

The opportunities are available only if the private and public sector organisations are brave enough to capture the feedback, analyse the trends and proactively drive improvements!

Organisations can use a number of methods to source and channel customer feedback, for example;

  • internal and external surveys,
  • feedback cards,
  • complaint processes,
  • blogs or service comments and testimonials. 

Much of that feedback inevitably relates to staff performance, both good and poor.

On the upside, positive feedback can provide a valuable opportunity to reward and acknowledge teams in a timely manner.

Just as significantly, negative feedback should be seen by organisations as a thermometer of the business unit. Effective complaint management can be a powerful early warning system of deeper people management issues that need to be addressed.

The key then becomes how to efficiently capture the data, and use that information to identify and implement sustainable improvements in people management processes and systems.

Stakeholder complaints

Complaints from internal and external stakeholders often indicate one or more of the following people management processes needs review;

  • Recruitment processes
  • Induction processes
  • Training and development
  • Workforce planning affecting service delivery (staffing or deployment models)
  • Performance management
  • Conduct management
  • Work, Health and Safety
  • HR policy design and/or implementation
  • Welfare management

What do you need to do?

The first thing to do is to ensure you have a structured process around regularly sourcing and capturing complaints and feedback.

The next step is to analyse that data objectively and really consider the various issues that may sit behind the negative comments.

Build the discussion on feedback into your regular team meetings and communication processes. This depersonalises feedback in many situations and helps to focus on the issues, rather than the person. Issue-based resolution will often result in more long term and positive outcomes. Actively involve your teams in the process as they will offer a valuable and different perspective in problem solving.

If you would like assistance in developing a complaint management system and training and development in this important area for your from a team that has experience managing this issue, please contact us.

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What are the implications for the new bullying legislation for my business?

There has been a great deal of discussion in the media with employer groups and employee advocates concerning the introduction, on 1 January 2014, of new legislation around allegations of bullying in the workplace and the involvement of the Fair Work Commission.

Bullying is about health and safety and is directly related to the obligation of employers to provide a safe work environment. 

Regulators, such as Workcover NSW, have the responsibility for investigating and prosecuting bullying complaints as part of a breach of health and safety legislation.

What is new however, is that starting this year, an eligible employee who reasonably believes that he or she has been bullied at work may now, for a $65.50 fee, apply directly to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the workplace bullying. 

Most workplace relations commentators, and in fact the President of the Fair Work Commission Iain Ross,  are envisaging a significant number of  bullying complaints to be lodged as a result of the new provisions.  The potential for flow on costs to organisations is enormous.

What is bullying?

Workplace bullying occurs when a person or a group of people repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety


What do you need to do?

The first thing to do is to ensure you have effective policies in place around bullying behavior.  Review and confirm that they clearly identify expectations in the workplace and also the process for staff to follow in the event of bullying conduct.

However, having good policies is only part of the solution in preventing these types of costly allegations and complaints for your organisation.

Equally as critical is  

  • Ensuring the policies are implemented effectively
  • educating your teams and
  • developing your teams to identify indicators of bullying, investigate and then manage complaints

Quality training around key policies is critical at the induction phase and supported by regular follow up programs in the following areas:

  • The organisational bullying policy and related documents
  • Developing skills to respond quickly and appropriately when a complaint is lodged or bullying behavior is identified
  • Investigation skills
  • Communication skills
  • Management skills during an investigation and post incident.

Training and developing your teams will build resilience and a positive culture in your organisation.

If you would like assistance in developing an appropriate bullying policy or to discuss training and development for  your staff from a team that has experience managing  this issue, please contact us.

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A workplace Code of Conduct is a documented set of standards that describe the behaviours that are expected of those in the organisation. 

It provides a ‘roadmap’ for your employees and should be designed to be a seamless part of your overall business practice. It is critical that the standards described in the document apply to every level in the organisation.

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