Mirror Mirror on the Wall
All lifeforms learn by mirroring others, that is we imitate. As humans have developed additional skills such as writing and speech, we have learnt to mirror them as well. Although mirroring is most notable in children, we have all seen how a young child will naturally return a smile, it continues into adulthood which is demonstrated by regional accented speech or colloquialisms.
This can be both a positive thing and negative, as poor behaviour may be mirrored as frequently as desired behaviour.
But mirroring is not just about the physical. Thoughts and emotions may also be transferred between people, which is demonstrated by phobias or political or cultural beliefs being handed down from parent to child.
Behaviour Creates Behaviour, whether it is positive or negative it will be mirrored!
Positive and happy people can have a positive influence on those around them. Laughing at comedians makes people happy (assuming the joke resonated with you) and the comedians themselves are thought of fondly.
In much the same way that great leaders are positive and empowering, negative behaviours can cause unrest and negativity to spread in the workplace.
There is a saying that 'mud sticks', in that if you stay around negative behaviour then you will be pulled towards this same negative behaviour. The longer or stronger the influence the quicker you become like it and the harder it is to avoid. In the workplace, this means that poor performance is likely to engender a culture of poor performance if it goes unchecked.
Recent research by CABA, (a charity which supports the wellbeing of chartered accountants), found that over half (59%) of British employees find their work colleagues impact on their productivity, with 19% stating that the biggest distractions in the office are often not work related.
Over a quarter (28%) of employees revealed that they get annoyed by their colleagues pretending to work harder than they are and being quick to complain about workloads (20%). Colleagues taking credit for their co-workers’ work was another major annoyance, which 1 in 10 employees flagged.
Kelly Feehan, Services Director for CABA commented:
‘If you work with someone who constantly complains or takes advantage, you may dread coming to work even if you like your job. Colleagues have a profound impact on their co-workers’ performance and job satisfaction, and a poor work ethic and attitude can drive employees to low productivity, absenteeism or even quitting a post. Behaviour can be contagious, so employees may, consciously or unconsciously, mirror the actions and attitudes of their workplace peers.’
Setting Expectations and Managing them
To avoid the pitfalls of negative mirroring and reap the benefits of positive mirroring, it is important to first set behavioural expectations with your employees. This should be replicated consistently across your policies and procedures i.e. in company values/behaviours, performance management procedures, job descriptions & recruitment processes, codes of conduct etc.
However, once the expectations are set, the behaviours you want must be mirrored by your senior team, so they may then filter down the organisation. Behaviour which is not in line with expectations needs to be challenged, regardless of who is doing it! In fact, a culture where challenging inappropriate behaviour is not just allowable but encouraged, creates a self-policing workforce, reducing the burden on individual managers.