Strictly Business

Saturday, Jan 12 2013 12:00 PM

ROBIN PAGGI: The cure for inappropriate behavior at work

BY ROBIN PAGGI Contributing columnist

"You moon the wrong person at an office party and suddenly you're not 'professional' anymore," joked comedian Jeff Foxworthy. How true. If you were recently reprimanded for behaving inappropriately at your company's holiday party, then you might want to read on.

First, the good news: there is a reasonable explanation for your inappropriate behavior (in addition to alcohol). You can blame it on your underdeveloped Sensitivity to Context dimension of your emotional style. Huh?

In his book, "The Emotional Life of Your Brain," Dr. Richard Davidson says that we all have an emotional style that influences how we respond to the different situations that life presents. For example, our emotional style determines whether we rebound quickly from life's disappointments or suffer a meltdown instead.

Our emotional style is comprised of six dimensions, one of which is Sensitivity to Context, defined as being "how good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in."

Davidson explains that most people know that different social rules apply depending on where we are and who we're with. For example, mooning your best friend at a bachelor party might be OK, but mooning your boss at the company party is not. However, there are some folks who are "oblivious to the implicit rules that govern social interactions and that make a behavior that would be perfectly acceptable in one context offensive in another," says Davidson. This obliviousness is the result of 1) one's genes, and 2) an upbringing that enhanced one's genes. (In other words, those who did the upbringing thought it was acceptable to moon the boss too.)

Now, for the bad news: your employer doesn't care about your genetic code or how you were raised. Your employer wants you to behave appropriately at all times. And, if you're a supervisor, it's imperative that you understand the difference between what's appropriate in a workplace setting (including company functions away from the workplace) and what's appropriate in your personal life. Your friends can choose not to hang out with you if they don't like your behavior, but your subordinates don't have that luxury. Not understanding and respecting the differences in context makes your employer vulnerable to lawsuits and makes you easily dispensable.

So, if you want to remain employed (yes, it is perfectly legal for employers to fire employees who misbehave at company parties), you might want to develop your Sensitivity to Context dimension. Just Google "social etiquette at work" and you'll find lots of helpful articles to assist you in that effort in your day-to-day routine.

And, while you're at it, Google "social etiquette at holiday work parties" to help you get prepped for the next company party, so you don't end up sincerely repeating this joke by the late, great Phyllis Diller: "What I don't like about office (holiday) parties is looking for a job the next day."

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR Legal Solutions. She can be reached at rpaggi@worklogiclegal.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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