Here’s a tough question for you.
Are you likable?
Do people find it easy, energizing, and refreshing to be around you?
In my work as a coach, I’ve seen how people will unknowingly carry around the baggage of bad behaviors — behaviors that hold them back from loving relationships, career growth, and general life happiness. They don’t realize they have infected themselves with habits that offend or even push people away.
Most of us do a few things to annoy people, especially in our close relationships. It’s impossible to be human and not drift into occasional bad moods, childish reactions, or selfishness.
But sometimes these behaviors become habitual. We adopt them as part of our daily interactions and personal operating systems. Perhaps we never learned emotionally mature behaviors or they weren’t modeled for us by our parents.
Sometimes the people around us let us “get away” with behaviors by not setting boundaries or consequences.
They inadvertently give their seal of approval to our actions. Therefore we keep doing them because we can. And often, our positive traits can create a smokescreen for bad behavior, so we give ourselves permission to act out in one area because we are so good most of the time.
The behaviors you consistently reflect to the world are the tangible measure of your character and maturity. Yes, sometimes our emotions do get the best of us. But there are many compelling reasons to drop consistent bad behavior habits and create positive new ones.
- Bad behavior draws you to the world’s bottom feeders. Like attracts like. If you want to have relationships with mature, emotionally healthy, authentic people, you must consistently be one yourself.
- Bad behavior is a prelude to poor self-esteem and mood disorders. If your behaviors are pushing people away, causing problems at work, and making you unhappy, eventually it will take a toll on your emotions and feelings of self-worth.
- Bad behavior is frequently a symptom of a bigger issue. If we regularly act out in inappropriate or irritating ways, it’s often a call for further self-awareness. Something deeper (unresolved anger, pain, fear, etc.) may be behind those poor relational skills.
- Bad behaviors negatively impact those you love most. Spouses, children, and close family members might be deeply hurt or embarrassed by your behavior habits. But they live with you and often must tolerate these actions. Children in particular don’t have the emotional skills to implement appropriate boundaries or express their frustrations about adult bad behavior.
The behaviors I’m referring to here aren’t the grossly horrendous actions that could get you arrested (abuse, cruelty, cheating, etc.). I’m talking about the small bad behaviors that are like a thousand tiny arrows hurled over months and years. They slowly drain the mutual respect, ease, and natural pleasure of relationships. They cause others to be hyper-vigilant and on edge, waiting for the anticipated conduct or lack of conduct.
As always, the first step toward change is awareness. I have certainly become aware of my own bad behaviors at times in my life. Perhaps you have too.
Here are 8 of the most common bad behaviors. If you see yourself plagued by any of these now, I invite you to begin the work of turning your bad behavior habits into positive, relationship-building new habits.
1. Guilt Tripping. The guilt tripper uses not-so-subtle strategies to let others know they aren’t happy about something. When things don’t go their way, the guilt-tripper will say or do things to try to make others feel bad about their choices or actions. Rather than speaking plainly about a desire or disappointment, or just letting it go, the guilt tripper wants others to suffer right along with him/her.
New behavior: Learn to accept that not everything will go your way. Other people are entitled to make choices that you may not like. Ask for what you want, express your needs kindly, and accept disappointments graciously.
2. Holier Than Thou. “Holier than thou” behavior manifests as the need to be right all the time, the need to have the last word, the need to feel more important or intelligent than others. This person feels they know best and must let others in on their superiority. This behavior is frequently a cover for insecurity.
New behavior: Recognize that humility combined with mature self-confidence is highly attractive. No one wants to feel “less than” or inferior, regardless of their background, income, or station in life. Every person has something valuable to contribute, so seek first to learn from others.
3. Temper Tantrums. Pouting, withdrawal, belligerence, and passive aggressive behaviors are all examples of an adult temper tantrum. We all get angry and hurt, but there are healthy, adult ways of expressing anger that don’t undermine relationships. When my kids were little and had temper tantrums, I would tell them to “use your words.” We all need to use our words rather than childish behaviors to express our feelings.
New behavior: Recognize anger and frustration when they arise and work to identify the source. Often it is much deeper than the issue at hand. Take a deep breath and talk calmly about the feelings under the anger. Step back from interactions until you can control your feelings and speak calmly.
4. Manipulation. Many of the behaviors listed involve manipulation, but a manipulator pro will take it to new levels. They will use intelligence, wit, charm, or other skills to get people conform to their will. It may take months or years for those close to the manipulator to realize what’s happening. Sometimes the manipulator doesn’t consciously realize what they are doing is wrong or underhanded. They simply see the behavior as a normal means to an end.
New behavior. This one is tricky because it involves a fairly sophisticated level of self-awareness. It begins by embracing an honest respect for those around you — acknowledging that most people have inner wisdom and should not be led down a path that isn’t right for them, even if they do so willingly at first.
5. Gossiping. This is one behavior that can easily become habitual. Having information about someone, especially salacious or negative information, feels powerful. We know something that inquiring minds want to know. But gossip creates so much hurt and erodes trust. It takes practice and commitment to throw water on the fire of gossip.
New behavior. Begin to view gossip for what it is — hurtful and unkind. Rather than engage in gossip, seek the good in the person or situation and be the arbiter of kindness and healing.
6. Jealousy. Jealousy can manifest in many of the behaviors listed, especially guilt tripping. It usually stems from feeling wounded, inferior, or insecure. Jealous behavior makes others feel uncomfortable and unnecessarily guilty or wrong. We all feel it from time to time, and it’s a call to examine and appreciate our own lives.
New behavior. When jealousy rears its ugly head, stop and take a moment to turn the feelings around. If you feel jealous of someone, take a moment to bless their bounty and to acknowledge your own. If you want to improve your circumstances, take action rather than feeding the jealousy or putting someone down.
7. Poor listening. The age of distraction has led to an erosion of good listening skills. We type on the computer and talk to our children without looking at them. We answer cell phones during an important conversation or meal. We text while socializing with real, live people. We look past the person we are speaking with to see if someone more important is nearby. We are disengaged from really hearing what others have to say to us.
New behavior: Start by removing distractions when you are speaking to someone. Turn off the cell phone or tv. Step away from the computer. Practice deep listening by making eye contact, reflecting back to the speaker what you heard, and acknowledging the feelings or ideas conveyed.
8. Bad manners. Is it just me or have manners gone with the wind? These very simple skills that most of us were taught as children are powerful relating tools. Saying please and thank you, not interrupting, assisting someone, making conversation, showing appreciation, having table manners, being on time — all of these reflect consideration for others and respect for one’s self.
New behavior: Most of us know what good manners are, but since society in general has become more and more relaxed about them, we might have forgotten to use them. Start by reminding yourself about good manners. Take notice of what you might be neglecting and make a conscious effort to implement the manners that are missing for you.
It can be really hard to look in the mirror and see the truth about the ways we may be behaving. Our first reaction is to deflect and defend — we have good reason for our actions, we can justify our behaviors. Personal growth, and ultimately happiness in life, involves making ourselves vulnerable, acknowledging our flaws, and changing the behavior.
What behavior habits would you like to adopt in your life? Please share them with us in the comments.