Don't Just Tell Them To Stop...

February 15, 2018

Scenario - You are observing a classroom of kindergarten students and see "Little Johnnie" coloring on the wall by the window.  The teacher goes over and tells "Little Johnnie" to, "Stop coloring on the walls," but then doesn't give any direction after that.  So, a few minutes later, "Little Johnnie" is now coloring on the door.  The teacher again tells "Little Johnnie" to stop, saying, "Little Johnnie" I told you to stop coloring on the walls, and now you're coloring on the door."  "Little Johnnie" replies, "But I stopped coloring on the walls, you didn't say anything about the door."


This scenario is, of course, fictitious and a bit far-fetched, because good kindergarten teachers know that you can't just tell "Little Johnnie" to stop.  You must replace the dysfunctional behavior with a functional behavior that supports the class/educational goals.  So, what "Little Johnnie's" teacher should say is, "Little Johnnie, stop coloring on the wall and come over and start working on your spelling words."  Now the teacher replaced the dysfunctional behavior with a functional behavior that supported the class/educational goals.  It seems simple right?


But what happens when "Little Johnnie" grows up?  Now "Big Johnnie" is working in a manufacturin

plant and is supposed to be at a station on the production line but is in the break room getting a snack.  You, the supervisor, see Johnnie in the break room and say, "Johnnie, stop hanging out in the break room," and then walk on.  So, what happens?  Johnnie goes outside to finish the snack.  A few minutes later you see Johnnie outside finishing the snack and say, "I told you to stop taking a break and, here you are continuing to take a break."  "Big Johnnie" replies, "But I stopped hanging out in the break room, you didn't say anything about being outside or going back to work, you just said, 'Stop hanging out in the break room.'"   How will this impact you?  Will you get angry, maybe "write Johnnie up" for not following directions, or being insubordinate?


Is Johnnie wrong?  No.  Is Johnnie right?  No.  So, who is to blame for Johnnie’s dysfunctional behavior?  As observers we can pretty much see that Johnnie is at fault for the behavior.  But what does Johnnie blame as the cause for the continued dysfunctional behavior?  Johnnie blames you, the supervisor for not being specific, not giving expectations or direction.    As adults working with other adults, sometimes we forget to replace the dysfunctional behavior with the functional behavior or assume that the person knows what is expected or required when we just tell them to stop.   And if we try to hold them accountable for the continued poor performance or behavior, they may  push back at us and say that we didn’t give them enough specific direction (especially with "Alienated" or "Pragmatist" followers). 


Without replacing the dysfunctional behavior with something that supports the organizational goals, we leave the interpretation of what to do after they stop doing what we told them to stop doing in their hands and we may not be happy with what they do next either.   So, at C.M.F. Leadership Consulting we always suggest that you don’t just tell them to stop…always take it one step further and replace the dysfunctional behavior with something you want them to do which supports the organizational goals.  


As in the case of “Big Johnnie,” we as the supervisor seeing Johnnie in the break room, should say something like: “Hey Johnnie, we still have some production goals to meet today.  I need you to stop taking an unauthorized break and return to your position on the production line now please.”   Not only did you tell her why (we still have some production goals to meet), but you gave specific instructions to stop the dysfunctional behavior (I need you to stop taking an unauthorized break) and replaced it with a functional behavior that meets the needs of the organization with a specific time-bound statement (and return to your position on the production line now please).  


Putting It All Together:


People are people, with different ideas, perceptions, values, motives, goals, etc., and because of this, if we as leaders are not specific when trying to stop dysfunctional behavior, we run the risk of having continued or different dysfunctional behavior.  So, don’t just tell them to stop, replace the dysfunctional behavior with something functional that supports the goals of the organization.  By replacing it with something that is functional or meets the goals of the organization we are more likely to get the behavior that we want.


About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the author of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior," and Owner of CMF Leadership Consulting.  Chris is a developer/trainer/consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations. Chris holds a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education.  Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service where he last served as the Assistant Division Commander of Investigations.

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