What happens when we’re not at our best in interactions? The ripple effects of our “not such positive behavior”…

During a conversation with colleagues in Brooklyn, NY and then again with other colleagues in Arizona, we had discussion about the ripple effects of interactions that are negative. Focusing specifically on professional settings, we brainstormed situations where interactions among adults do not have desirable outcomes. Examples included staff meetings, professional development workshops, supervisory or coaching conversations, conversations with families, and interactions between staff members (e.g., teacher and teaching assistant, grade level team meetings).

In both discussions, we agreed that these interactions were most often negative when the behaviors of some adults were negative or “challenging”.  We acknowledged that we were all capable of these challenging behaviors that resulted in negative ripples. I’m defining a challenging behavior by an adult as one that interferes with achieving desired goals and/or that doesn’t support a group in either connecting or extending learning.

Our next step was to independently list instances when we demonstrate behavior that might describe as “our challenging behavior.” For each self-described negative behavior on our list, we tried to identify the trigger — the cause that sets us off.

One item on my list was “check out” and after some reflection I decided that my trigger is when I get bored or irritated by discussions that go on too long or become repetitive without resolution — a frequent occurrence at meetings. Not surprisingly, many others in the group had something similar on their lists and we came to see that the ripple effect of checking out or not speaking up often means not turning the meeting into something potentially productive. It also results in everyone leaving the meeting with feelings of frustration.

What, then does it mean to become mindful of one’s challenging behaviors and to cultivate the capacity to actively change from negativity to something more proactive and strengths-based that will help to move a group or situation ahead. I’ve been exploring ways to catch myself “behaving badly” because of the actions of someone else or when a situation is not ideal.

For adults, the causes of “negative behaviors” that were listed included frustration, boredom, inconsistent or unclear expectations, long, unfocused meetings, and unpredictable schedules. Not surprisingly, we noted that our “challenging behaviors” were sometimes to withdraw and other times to act out in more noticeable ways – talking too much, losing our tempers, or saying something we wish we hadn’t said. Here again is an example of the ripples of interactions — in this case, the ripples that lead to negative feelings and behaviors. We saw many parallels between adult challenging behavior and children’s challenging behaviors.

Here’s what I’m wondering… What are some ways to influence a negative situation by quieting the static of frustration and irritation and using a strengths-based stance to help move a group ahead? Perhaps if we can learn to respond rather than react to challenging behaviors in adults (ourselves included), and in children, in  positive ways, we can create a positive ripple effect rather than a negative one and move a situation to a more optimistic (productive?) place. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment.