The purpose of terror is to harass, weaken, or embarrass others in order to achieve specific goals.  We have all encountered an “engagement terrorist” in our workplaces at some point in our careers.   This is a person who wants to achieve their goals and cares little for the collateral damage they may cause to others feelings or objectives.   They may be either aggressive or passive aggressive.   Either way they can be characterized as a terrorist who damages engagement of others. 

Employee engagement is damaged by these terrorists because they damage the motivation of productive employees (their engagement).  They do this with two basic dysfunctional behaviors:  They either break agreements or they behave disrespectfully.  The terrorist has good intentions.  They see their goals as most important and will put their accomplishment ahead of other competing tasks.  They do this for a variety of reasons and I believe their reasons are not really important.  Their belief is that their time is extremely valuable and their goals come first.

The “agreement (or integrity) terrorist”

The “agreement (or integrity) terrorist” damages the performance of other employees who are depending upon them to deliver information or completed tasks.  The co-workers of these terrorists are “performance victims” because the quantity, quality, or timing of their work suffers.  This damages the pride and future effort of the co-workers. 

The “integrity terrorist” will promise to take care of a problem and then do nothing. They will make convincing statements that create the impression they will act instantly, “I’m on it!”   They are very careful to not mention any details of when or how the problem will be corrected.  They do this because later they can pretend they either had a failure of memory, make some other lame excuse, or lay blame on someone else who was originally never involved in the discussion.  They wait to see if the problem goes away or ideally the co-worker forgets. 

If the co-worker is bold enough to confront them on their original “promise” their two most frequent responses are “aggressive-defensive”, “I’ll get to it, stop bugging me.” or “a convenient loss of memory”, “Oh, I got so busy and it must have slipped my mind.  I will get it done now.”

The “disrespect terrorist”

The co-workers who are victims of the terrorist’s disrespect often experience severe demotivation, reduced confidence, and/or self-esteem. Their self-worth is attacked which puts them off balance and can cause them to even react with poor behaviors.  The terrorist will give a threatening look or raise their tone of voice. They send a clear message of superiority and arrogance.  Their message is, “I am more important than you, I don’t need you or your request(s) and you need to just leave me alone.”

The Problem

The main reason the terrorist creates such engagement damage is because they are able to get away with their inappropriate behaviors.  The lack of consequences enables and emboldens the terrorist.  In addition, they are often very intelligent and have honed their techniques for years.  Their lack of integrity and disrespect has served them well for years.   A consistent predictable set of strategies that create consequences, without stooping to their level, is the only way to stop them. 

The 3 Strategies

Step one is to agree on a set of specific definitions.  An agreement is a specific, measureable and time sensitive task where all factors should be under the control of the person.  Organizations perform based upon agreements.  Trust is created by making and keeping agreements.  Organizations cannot operate without trust.

Create a definition of agreement and then clearly define the behaviors needed to manage those agreements (integrity).  For example, when we make an agreement we do so with full knowledge that others are depending upon us.  Therefore, we must make an effort to complete it on-time and if we can’t to let the other person know immediately.  In addition we must create a new agreement with a new time frame.  We must also be proactive and not reactive.

We must then do the same for the word “respect”.  We must clarify those behaviors we need to see in order to treat others with respect.

Step two is to get the employees (not just the terrorists) to agree to the clearly defined behaviors.  This is relatively easy because, if written clearly, there will be no reason for the employees to disagree.

Step three is the most challenging.   Everyone must have permission to confirm all agreements in writing.  You also need permission to tell anyone when they are being disrespectful.   Terrorists need to be stopped during their acts of terror.  They need to be shown how their behavior does not match the behaviors they agreed to hold up. 

Furthermore, any disrespect should be documented as well.  Employees can document disrespect respectfully.  If the clear statements from Step One are clearly written, any disrespect will be obvious.  Obvious disrespect must be documented.

Only when all three steps are implemented can one be sure to diffuse the bombs these “engagement terrorists” want to detonate.  Only a disciplined approach to all three steps can begin to avoid the collateral damage.



Wally Hauck holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Certified Speaking Professional and for 15 years his consulting firm, Optimum Leadership, has consulted with dozens of organizations and coached hundreds of individuals in improving leadership skills to boost employee engagement and performance.
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