Friday, 30 December 2011

The Right Way to Address Another Persons Negative Behavioral Traits

A very minor incident that happened today reminded me and helped me to clarify in my mind something I've been thinking about lately, to do with dealing with bad behavior, or negative behavioral traits, that may occur in people with Aspergers, but also applies to neuro-typicals.

I know a man who is in many ways very helpful, but has a number of undesirable traits that he seems to be somewhat aware of himself. Those traits are firstly, that he can quckly change his tone from being friendly to being somewhat aggresive, after something he sees that irritates him, and secondly, he is easily able to see the negatives in people, and can find a bone to pick with anyone he knows.

On several occasions, he has had to point out to me a few technical mistakes I make occasionally, sometimes when he has seen a pattern. These are not fatal errors or especially numerous ones, but the type that everyone will make from time to time. He has often accused me, when pointing out these errors, of sighing and groaning at him or over-reacting or even taking offence at them, and has said he finds it 'rude.' He's accused me of trying to pass the blame onto another person. This is led to us almost falling out once or twice.

Now when someone tells me I've done something wrong or made a mistake. that's bad news. It doesn't really matter who the messenger is, although how the messager delivers may impact my impression of the seriousness of the error. But it's bad news because I want to get things right, I want to be regarded as competant, I want to progress in life an in my career, and anything that says I'm not up to standard is bad news. How do we normally react to bad news? With a sigh or a groan. That's our natural reaction!

So you've just had a tickling off over a basic mistake, perhaps some errors in a spreadsheet or walking too fast, you naturally sigh and groan, the the same person moans at you for a sigh or a groan and tells you you're being rude, then guess what - you have compounded the problem. You are now faced with two pieces of bad news - you've made an error and your behavior is sub-standard and rude. What's you naturally reaction? An even bigger sigh, and on, and on. It can go round in circles.

Now this type of situation happens all the time. It happens in schools when a telling off over a sub-standard homework assignment is followed by a a telling off over a bad reaction to the teacher's displeasure. At least that's how I see it.

Now my question is, do we learn better when we are in a good mood or a bad mood? Sometimes it appears the only times we're taught how to 'behave' is by being told off when we get it wrong. As autistic speaker Ros Blackburn has said, there is a difference between being told how to behave, and being told off about how you behave. I would like to suggest that after facing a rebuke on two different accounts, it is a bit much to expect one to walk back to their desk with a happy smile on their face!

It is important that we distinguish between what is 'rude' and what is a natural reaction to bad news. I strongly object to the charge of 'rudeness' simply because I'm displaying my natural reaction, and the fact I happen to have a nervous and reactionary disposition and a tendency to panic. One must be careful in their use of words. If we say 'it may appear rude' is better than 'that's rude' it helps to shows we recognise that they are not being malicious.

The main point I wish to make is this. If someone, after facing a ticking off over one thing, is reacting badly, and has a behavioral trait that needs to be addressed for whatever reason, the time to address it is not when that person is being told off for another misnomer. No, the time to address such traits is when a more calm, controlled and positive situation arises, such as their annual review, which will most likely begin with a few 'well dones.' If more urgent, organise a one-to-one meeting several hours or days later when that person is in a good mood, and at that kind of meeting start off with something positive, and just gently mention the negative trait or issue that needs addressing, and explain calmly how that person needs to be aware how their behavior is impacting others. That way, it will also help ensure that what you are saying is accurate depiction of the person's behavior and not a 'reaction' to it. A few positives will assure them that their misnomers do not make them incompetent or a failier, and that in itself will mean that they will be less likely to react badly when the next one is brought to their attention.

In short, don't bombard you child, pupil or work colleague with more than one rebuke at once. Address behavior when that person is in a good mood in a planned and organised setting, and do it all carefully and sensitively.

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