Are You Picking Up Your Co-Workers Bad Habits?

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We have all be there at one time or another. That place you go to in your career that you wouldn't normally be caught dead in. I am talking about that place that makes you adopt the bad habits of your co-workers. Sometimes this bug comes in the form of the drink-too-much at happy hour fairy, or the gorge-at lunch monster that sends you into an afternoon tailspin of lack of productivity, or it could even lead you into the danger zone of gossip monger at the water cooler.

Why is it that we tend to pick up the bad habits of those around us, especially those we work with? Well, according to LiveScience, the blame game is contagious and detrimental to all involved, especially in the workplace, but that your co-workers good habits can also be contagious and inspiring.


It's Contagious-The Blame Game At Work

According to Nathanael Fast of the Department of Management and Organization at the University of Southern California, blaming others or events is a dangerous thing to do for anyone involved, even spectators can be affected by watching others play the blame game. Blaming is usually done to protect ones self image. "Oh, I didn't forget to do that, it must have been John Smith." By pointing the finger at someone else, you unload your own feelings of failure, and minimize your shortcomings by throwing someone else under the bus and forcing that person to ride in the hot seat of blame. As Fast explains, this leads to multiple problems. First, the blamer never learns from his own mistakes or acknowledges them so he misses out on the chance to become more effective. How can we learn from our mistakes if we are in denial about them even occurring?

Secondly, there's the issue of the "kick-the-dog effect," as Fast calls it. If someone at the top of the ladder in an organization makes a mistake and points the finger at someone else below him as being the culprit of the mistake, a chain reaction is initiated where everyone that gets blamed, denies it, and points the finger and blames someone beneath him, until the lowest man on the totem pole is forced to shoulder the blame for something he didn't do, so he goes home and kicks his poor defenseless dog.


The Study and It's Findings

Fast, along with Larissa Tiedens of Standford University conducted multiple studies in which candidates were divided into two groups. One group was given a scenario about a person's failure in which that person owned up to their mistake. The other group was given the same scenario, but instead of acknowledging his mistake, the leader in the scenario passed the buck and blamed someone else. Later the members of these two groups were asked to write about one of their own recent failures and the reason for this failure.

The group that read about the leader's failure and how he blamed it on someone else were more than twice as likely to lay blame on someone else for their own mistakes than the other control group where the leader owned up to his failure.

Two other similar studies yielded the same types of results, indicating that blaming others is contagious.


Why Do We Blame Others

Besides being easy, we tend to blame others for our own slip-ups because we are concerned about preserving our own self image. When we see others play the blame game and offload their shortcomings onto other people, it can put us in a bad mood which Fast believes can lead to further blaming (the whole concept of misery loves company), and it can also justify the act of blaming in our minds. People begin to think that if they see their co-worker push their mistakes off onto someone else, that blaming is an acceptable form of behavior.


Set An Example

The best way to avoid infesting your workplace with the blame game is to lead by example. "It's important for leaders and organization managers who are trying to shape their cultures in a way to improve performance and creativity," Fast said. "If you're a leader, don't blame other people, at least not publicly. You might want to offer praise in public, but if you have to blame someone, do it in private."


Good Habits Can Be Contagious As Well

While blaming others at the office seems like an easy and common contagious workplace practice, there are good habits that can also be contagious. For example, self-discipline in the workplace can also rub off on your co-workers, even without effort. A series of studies, whose results were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that observing and/or thinking about a person with good self-control makes others more likely to follow suit and mimic some similar restraint. According to the lead author of this study, Michelle vanDellen, of the University of Georgia, "picking social influences that are positive can improve your self-control, and by exhibiting self-control you are helping others around you do the same."

Kate Lemay, Terra Foundation Predoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, says that the studious habits of her co-workers is contagious, in a good way. "My co-workers and I work in a library quiet environment and out of respect for this policy, we talk in whispers. Working day in and day out in an environment like this is great for writing and thinking." Lemay adds that she finds herself whispering hello on the elevator sometimes which is a bit odd, but that the quiet environment has done wonders for her dissertation.

While it is obvious that the habits of those around you-at home and at work- are contagious, it is best to avoid the blame game and hone in on some positive habits of those around you and mimic those instead. Your mood and your productivity levels will thank you.

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