Henry Onyidoh: Getting Around Office Bad Belles

Call it (or them) any name you want – saboteurs, haters, opposition, people with pull-down-at-any-cost syndrome, enemies of progress; but it all boils down to bad belle people, of whom the master rapper, Mister Incredible (M.I) has made quite a huge diss about. You encounter this type of people in every facet of life, and most especially in your place of work, and more often than not you’ve relegated them to the background, where nothing they say seems to matter anymore. Imagine a colleague with whom you are having this type of relationship with, the person who makes every innocent conversation edgy. Whatever seems to be the topic of discussion this person is always in the opposition and attacks everything you say and do, even when it is the least of things you consider harmful. How about I tell you there’s a way to go round this person without the “usual” frontal offensive, which is common.

In every scenario you can imagine, the most annoying would to be a moment when having filed in a report or a presentation to your boss, you’re seated on your desk feeling accomplished, then all of a sudden a head pops up from the side and says: “I happen to see the draft report you sent, and there are sooooo many mistakes. Come over let me share some ideas with you to make it better.”

It makes you want to scream in anger. All sorts of reactions and thought would pop up: “See this one, how she get my report sef?” “He just happens to sit down and mark all my mistakes, busy-body.” “She thinks she’s so smart, telling me to come let’s make it better; ITK.”

Now, erase that person off your mind, and instead, imagine another colleague with whom you’re friendly with; that person who always got your back. This is someone you go to for advice and always a delight when you deliberate on important issues. Once you have this person in mind, imagine this scenario: You’re seated on your desk, then all of a sudden a head pops up from the side and says: “I happen to see the draft report you sent, and there are so many mistakes. Come over let me share some ideas with you on how to make it better.”

You feel pleased, appreciative, and looking forward to the conversation, right? You may even long for the discourse and jot down more questions in anticipation. That’s how intensely your assumptions and predispositions affect your perceptions. And after the conversation might have ended, the truth is that most of the time, the exact same message from the two different people leads to radically different outcomes. With the perceived bad belle, you assume the worst. Your mentality, your reaction and body language become negative and impervious. The “adversary” being human would get defensive and hostile upon seeing your behaviour. The corresponding faceoff justifies more adversarial attitude from you, and as a result status-quo is maintained, trust is further eroded, while the organization is worse for it.

However, with your paddy; your “five and six,” you assume the best, your conversation and actions are open, your ideas are laid bare without fear of criticisms, you share, learn, trust grows and the end product makes the work and organization better. You then wonder why you can’t get along with the “bad-belle.” The missing antidote in you is mind-set, mindfulness, mentality. It is the best antidote to reverse the destructive dynamics going on between you two. Being mindful of the assumptions you make gives you an opportunity to reverse the ills of your prejudices.

Paying attention to how you react to your colleagues actions, would give you some clues on why your heart race, why you clench your fists, why you raise your voice, why you shut down and back off whenever that person appears, speaks or offers help. Each time you experience this, stop and ask yourself, what is going on with you? Why have you inferred that whatever he/she does or say would be negative? In the end you would notice that the most intense reactions are often triggered by assuming what the other person thinks or infers about your character or capability. By becoming aware of your negative assumptions is a valuable, but “uncomfortable” step in addressing the issue.

Next step is addressing the logic. Once you are aware of your default conclusion, the next and easiest step is to replace your assumption(s) with a more productive hypothesis. Instead of assuming they see themselves as being too smart to highlight your mistakes, change your logic into thinking that they are actually be concerned for you due to the standard and scope your boss wants the report to accomplish. Or they’re actually looking out for you by making sure you didn’t present a report full of errors. Such alternative logic would make you more generous and empathetic, needed to generate a productive conversation. Make the same inference for yourself, fill your mind with thoughts that; “I haven’t put in enough work, despite my big brains.” This will ensure that you would be more receptive and have an open mind to ideas which would widen your aptitude.

 Lastly, to crown this approach, you need to show superficially the curiosity you are modelling internally. To demonstrate your honesty to a colleague’s perspective, ask questions: Why do you disagree with the data on the document? Why do you think the report should take a different course? It will be amazing to see how your discussion would be transformed to a more constructive dialogue; from a tug-of-war over who is right to two people genuinely trying to solve a problem. Only when you change your mind-set would you be able to make more positive assumptions and start getting over your prejudices, so you can choose a more constructive path, albeit in the office; the neighbourhood bad belles can wait.

Views expressed are solely that of author and does not represent views of nor its associates

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