Organisations will often blame bad decisions on an employee having a ‘bad day’. But it is possible to anticipate employees’ bad-day triggers and turn them into something positive, argues Ian Brett.
Earlier this year, founder of Ovo Energy Stephen Fitzpatrick appeared live on television to apologise after the company naively advised customers struggling to pay their bills this winter to adopt a 10-point plan, which included “doing a few star jumps” and cuddling pets. In his heartfelt apology, Fitzpatrick blamed the error on someone having a “bad day”.
Of course we can all empathise with that feeling of having a bad day. It happens from time to time and that is ok – it is part of life. But how do you ensure that employees don’t have bad days like this regularly, leading to dire consequences for you and your organisation?
We run Insights Discovery programmes, where participants explore their ‘good day’ and ‘bad day’ behaviours. Good day behaviours are what come through when we’re playing to our strengths, showing our best-self, our bright side, our best foot forward. The version of ourselves we recognise, we like and choose to present consciously to others.
In contrast, bad day behaviours are displayed when we start to overuse or overextend our strengths – too much of a good thing can be perceived negatively.
Bad days can also show-up under pressure and stress when we lose the conscious consideration of our approach and revert to a more reactive approach. Bad day behaviours also reveal our ‘blind spots’ – negative qualities about ourselves that are visible to others but which we are either unaware of or try to hide.
Intent versus impact
Sometimes, these bad day behaviours cause our intent to not match our impact. Here are some examples
- Being competitive and purposeful on a good day could be perceived as aggressive and overbearing on a bad one
- Being social and dynamic could be perceived as hasty and frantic
- Being analytical and precise could be perceived as nit-picky and indecisive, and
- Being considerate and encouraging could be perceived as slow-paced and reliant on others.
We all have this bad-day side to us but what differentiates how one person reacts compared to another is the degree to which they are conscious of it.
The psychology behind this says that when we’re not conscious of this ‘darker side’ then we believe the negative consequences of our actions are fate or we blame others. If we ignore the bad-day side to us it does not merely disappear but functions independently of our conscious awareness.
It exerts control over our thoughts, emotions, behaviours and ultimately judgement. The more we ignore it, the darker and denser it gets.
You cannot manage bad day behaviours by focusing on the good days as this is simply papering over the cracks. Instead, help employees to be conscious of the bad days and commit to tackling them head on by following this three stage process.
Self-awareness helps people understand what they are good at, not so good at, and how their actions can be perceived by others.
It’s the foundation on which everything else is built. Once you know what you’re good at, and how you ‘show up’ for others, you can adjust your behaviours and approach to achieve the outcomes you seek. That also means you’re more likely to build positive, lasting relationships, increase productivity, and achieve your goals.
Triggers of stress and pressure will be experienced differently but could lead to teams experiencing a bad day.
What frustrates us about others, tells us more about ourselves than it does about the other person. Am I projecting or transferring part of myself onto someone else and not liking what I see? It’s often easier to dislike parts of others than to look inwards at ourselves. Helping employees to become truly self-aware will help them appreciate the unique gifts that others bring, which can move them from frustration to fascination with others.
Invest in self-development
Self-development will help employees build the skills and capabilities to know when someone is heading for a bad day and what to do about it.
One example might be knowing people’s triggers and choosing not to ignore them. This requires upskilling in different areas – practical or behavioural. Surrounding employees with those who have the skills that they do not and learning from them is also invaluable.
Triggers of stress and pressure will be experienced differently but could lead to teams experiencing a bad day. Some different triggers might be:
- When decisions aren’t being made and there’s no clear goal;
- When there’s no space to explore possibilities and share new ideas;
- When things are sprung on them or when team harmony is disrupted; and
- When there isn’t time to go through the details and it’s all go, go, go.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are always developing. An individual’s journey of development will be unique.
The experience gained through ageing, key life events, education, professional experience, cultural influences will all add to someone’s development journey.
Offer and receive feedback
Feedback can be a gift when offered in the right way. Encourage employees to ask colleagues how they like to work and listen – really listen.
This can help them learn about themselves through the eyes of others, improve any rough edges, do what they’re great at more often and reduce the likelihood of being derailed by bad days.
Importantly, feedback should be given at an appropriate time and in an appropriate way, with a consideration for the personality of the individual.
If someone needs time to reflect and consider, then it’s unproductive if you put them on the spot for a quick decision.
One way to tackle this is to use the ‘D4’ model for effective feedback conversations.
Data – what are the facts? What actually happened?
Depth of feeling – how do you feel?
Dramatic interpretations – What thoughts are you having, what is your inner talk?
Do – Decide the appropriate course of action.
These three steps can help you and your employees manage their bad day behaviours and reduce the risk of bad days, which unless you get them under control can pose a threat to your entire business.