Your Personality Is Not An Excuse For Bad Behavior

One of my pet peeves is people who use their personality as an excuse for their behavior. “I can’t help it, that’s just who I am” is the phrase that’s often uttered to rationalize or justify an action, position, or attitude. In some ways it’s almost the perfect defense to any argument, isn’t it? “You mean you want me to change who I am?” How can you ask someone to change the very essence of what makes them who they are?

There’s no doubt that our inborn temperament and  natural personality traits shape the way we perceive and react to our environment, however, we are in control of the way we choose to respond to situations. Part of being a successful and trusted leader is learning how to regulate your thoughts, emotions, and natural personality traits so that you can respond in a manner that is appropriate for the situation at hand. Using your personality as a crutch to stay in your emotional comfort zone will only limit your leadership potential and alienate those around you.

Your personality is not an excuse for…

Being rude to people — If you frequently find yourself saying “I’m just being honest and telling it like it is,” then you’re probably relying too much on your default nature of being direct and to the point. Those are great traits to possess, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse for being harsh or inconsiderate with people.

Not giving feedback when feedback is due — It’s difficult for most people to deliver constructive criticism to others, but people often hide behind their personality traits as an excuse to not give feedback. Whether you’re introverted and shy and find it difficult to engage others, or an extroverted people-pleaser that can’t stand the idea of someone not liking you, you have to learn ways to give feedback. You owe it to yourself and others.

Avoiding or inciting conflict — Along the same lines as giving feedback, dealing with conflict is probably the most common area where we stay in our emotional comfort zone. This is especially dangerous for people who tend to fall on the edges of the spectrum in dealing with conflict – either avoiding it or gravitating to it. Whatever your natural style of dealing with conflict, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way to deal with it. Just as important as knowing your natural tendencies, it’s important to know how others tend to deal with conflict so that you can “speak the same language” when trying to resolve issues.

Blaming others — It’s easy for us to blame others for whatever shortcomings we may have in our life or career; it’s much harder to honestly examine ourselves and take responsibility for the choices we’ve made that have led us to where we are today. For example, if you have a personality need to always be right, and you demonstrate that by constantly arguing and debating with colleagues, you shouldn’t blame others when people stop including you in projects, meetings, or decisions. “They don’t want my opinion because they don’t respect me and don’t want to hear the truth”…no…they don’t want your opinion because you always think you’re right and it’s annoying!

Our personalities are what makes us the unique individuals we are, and the beauty of organizational life is that we’re able to take this diversity and blend it into a cohesive whole that’s more productive and powerful than the individual parts. Learning to be more aware of our own personalities and those of others, combined with a willingness to stretch out of our comfort zones and not always rely on our natural instincts, will help us lead more productive and satisfying lives at work.

31 Comments on “Your Personality Is Not An Excuse For Bad Behavior

  1. Great post, Randy! May I add to this people who use their ADD as an excuse for poor follow through.

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    • Darn it! I should have included that one! When you pause to think about it, it’s amazing how many times we blame our personality, as if it was something outside of our control.

      Thanks for stopping by Jamie.

      Randy

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  2. I agree with this 100% and as It is a truism that behaviour breeds behaviour, something that ought to be borne in mind whenever interacting with others.

    After all it is not for nothing that there exist the sayings “Do as you would be done by”, and “What ever you send out will come back to you threefold”, “as ye sow, so shall ye reap”….

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  3. Great Post! Some other excuses may include “I am just to lazy”, “I am just not as good at it as you are”, “I will never be good at this”, etc. It is all about accepting personal responsibility.

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  4. I’ve heard “I’m just a realist.” before (maybe even used it myself) as an excuse for pessimism. “Sure, you might be a realist you’re just good at looking at the bad side of reality.” Great post!

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  5. As usual, all valid points. I’m curious, ever shown a list like this to somebody who would benefit from this constructive feedback? My experience is they sometimes don’t see themselves in it at all! Quite fascinating really when you delve deeper into the psychology of why some self-reflect the way they do, if at all!

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    • Great question Murray. In my personal experience I have done that and it’s worked well with others (because they truly are unaware of how they’re being perceived) and not so well with some because they’re comfortable being the way they are and aren’t willing to change.

      Take care,

      Randy

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  6. Love this post, and you are spot-on. I work with The Birkman Method personality assessment, and I love seeing how we’re all uniquely wired, with different strengths. It’s important for us all to celebrate and play to our strengths, but at the same time, invest some energy in those “things we can work on”. Some of us would benefit from taking more time to aim before firing, paying a little more attention to detail, or being more decisive. And ultimately, as you say, we all have to take responsibility for ourselves, our actions, and our behaviors. There’s a term commonly used in Birkman circles, which is really more of a strategy: borrowing behaviors. While certain habits or behaviors may be natural for us based on our unique wiring, those behaviors aren’t always appropriate or productive, and we might be well-served to “borrow” some behaviors from another personality type in certain situations, or in order to meet our own personal goals.

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    • Hi Diane. I love the concept of “borrowing behaviors” from another personality type! I’m only vaguely familiar with the Birkman Method, but have had colleagues who have experienced it and deem it very valuable. Thanks for your insights!

      Take care,

      Randy

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  7. Another post that is right on, Randy! From time to time I see managers using what they’re learned a DiSC, or Meyers-Briggs, Birkman, or Strength Finders to say, “You had better change your approach to fit my style!” They expect others to change their personality type to fit their needs. You’ll notice I didn’t call these folks leaders. Rather, emotionally mature leaders recognize that it is not about them, not about their personality. They are willing to adapt what they learn in various assessments so that others are better served and the organization moved forward. These leaders differentiate themselves. The others, those that use their personality as an excuse rather than a developing strength, are frankly just professionally immature and a drain on the organization. I’ll take leaders willing to develop self awareness relative to their behaviors any day!

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    • Hi Beth. You are spot on! I’ve seen that too many times myself. The insights we gain from taking different personality surveys end up being an excuse for behaving in our normal, default patterns, rather than learning how to adjust our behaviors to fit the needs of the situation.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Randy

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  8. Great point, Randy! When someone is kind enough to bring one of our faults to our attention a better response than “I can’t help it, that’s just who I am” would be “That’s who I was but I’m trying to change. Thank you for reminding me.”

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    • Hi JoAnn! I love the perspective you bring to this issue. Responding in the way you suggest shows a mature, growth-oriented mindset of someone who is truly concerned about improving.

      Take care,

      Randy

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  9. How about this excuse: “You have always gone out of your way to “help” people and that is why you are disappointed when they treat you like crap.” Is this putting the blame back on the other person??

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    • That’s a good one Elizabeth! If we choose to “help” someone, we should do it because we truly want to help, not with the expectation that they will be grateful or do something for us in return.

      Take care,

      Randy

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      • So because I am helping my husband with his mother (who treats me badly) when he was over the road driving, It’s my fault that they treat me like crap? If so, I guess my answer is to not be so giving and loving.

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  10. Hey! I came across this when I searched something to do with “a bad life doesn’t excuse bad behaviour” and I was wondering what your thoughts on that are? I am really conflicted. I read a post that said we should consider what someone is going through behind their meanness/bad behaviour before we make any judgement, and I get that point, but also, if I consider that, am I not excusing their bad behaviour?

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    • Hi Laurel, thanks for your comments.

      My view is that regardless of our circumstances or past experiences, we have control over our behavior moving forward. Of course our experiences shape who we are and how we behave, but our behavior is a choice.

      Take care,

      Randy

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  12. “There’s no doubt that our inborn temperament and natural personality traits shape the way we perceive and react to our environment, however, we are in control of the way we choose to respond to situations.” No, we are not. Our personality can not be separated from the way we respond to situations. A desirable respons can be neurologically impossible.

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  15. Great article! As my Dad used to say “Boredom is an inside job!”. This also applies to happiness and gratefulness. There is really no excuse for being rude and inconsiderate. As Eric Hoffer said ” Rudeness is the strength of weak people. When someone is rude I repeat this to them. Maybe they can ponder this for a few seconds! Thanks!

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