How to Identify Emotional Habits & Destructive Patterns in the Workplace

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

It's easy for managers to get so caught up in their own little world that they unknowingly exhibit bad habits. This lesson provides a scenario that can help managers and employees alike to become more effective at losing bad habits.


As human beings, we have a tendency to trust ourselves. The more comfortable we get in a situation or environment, the less self-aware we become. Being self-aware means that we are able to understand our own thoughts, emotions, and actions - specifically, it's knowing these things and being able to assess their impact on our behavior. When people are not aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, they become very difficult individuals to engage because they speak and act from a position of self-assigned authority. It must be nice not to know that nobody likes you, but it's not a healthy position to be in. Let's explore a hypothetical business case to apply the concept of being self-aware and taking appropriate action to minimize bad habits.

Being fiercely confident can be good, but only if you are completely right!

Destructive Behavior

Samantha, a radiology technician in a large hospital, has applied to become a supervisor three times in her 10 year career. She has been politely rejected all three times. After the third rejection, Samantha exploded on her boss, Andy. ''I've been here longer than everyone, and I do this job better than anyone. It's not right that I get passed over every time there's an opportunity to move up!''

If you're thinking this is a manager's ideal intervention point, you're correct. There are a lot of ways Andy can respond to Samantha's statement. Some of these ways are healthy, but others are not.

At this point, if you think that this case example is about Samantha, you would be incorrect. Although Samantha clearly has some characteristics that are not desirable, the fact that she has applied for the role three times, but has not yet come to an understanding of the reason for her lack of promotion is actually evidence that her supervisor, Andy, is engaging in a pattern of destructive behavior. We'll define destructive behavior as any habit or characteristic that causes negative outcomes in the workplace.

Destructive behaviors make for an uncomfortable and unproductive workplace.

Andy's inability to effectively explain the characteristics or behaviors that will make Samantha a viable candidate for a supervisory role is destructive because it is essentially a form of emotional theft. Samantha deserves to know why she is being passed over, but Andy hates conflict and cringes at the thought of having to explain this to her. By avoiding giving her an explanation, Andy is pursuing his own emotional self-interest at her expense. In other words, he would rather that she be the one deprived of something she is entitled to so that he can avoid an emotionally uncomfortable situation. That's why this scenario is about her manager, and that's why his behavior needs to change.


If Samantha's manager is self-aware regarding his desire to avoid conflict, and if he truly wants to improve his behavior in this area, he must engage this destructive pattern through disruption. In this context, disruption means that Andy must take positive, affirmative action to break the cycle of his undesirable behavior.

There are actually quite a few ways Andy can disrupt this pattern, and the first step is simply to realize when it's happening. That means that whenever he is becoming uncomfortable because he fears her response, he must take decisive action and avoid continuing down that path. As soon as he realizes he is backing away from a potential conflict, he must consciously decide that this is the moment he will not allow himself to facilitate the destructive behavior any longer.

Because he doesn't like conflict at all, it could be disastrous for Andy to address Samantha without being fully prepared. If she challenges him, he might back down. If she cries, he might give her what she wants. If she says she's going to quit, he might beg her to stay. But he doesn't want to do any of those things, so it's time for a better plan.

Andy's plan to disrupt his undesirable behavior could begin by writing out the thoughts he would like to share with her long before they have a conversation. He could take that a step further and practice the conversation in his mind so that he is more confident in his decision and more prepared to deal with what may be an extremely uncomfortable emotional response.

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