Block the noise (through “neuro-management”)

A recent workshop with managers in a time-critical work environment reminded me how distracting, even damaging, some employees can be. How are busy managers to deal with workplace “neurotics”? While I don’t mean this term literally, from what I hear, some behaviours come pretty close to actual pathology.

Influencing people to succeed is a priority skill for managers, but how equipped is the average manager to deal with those with a subversive agenda? These are people with a range of unresolved character issues that may date back to their first six years.

If you have never experienced this, great. But beware: this could happen to you, too. Such people can slip in under the radar and the team suddenly loses its focus. The signs are when people are:

  • Difficult
  • Attention-seeking
  • Over-dramatic
  • High maintenance
  • Emotionally volatile
  • Hyper-sensitive to comments
  • Resistant to feedback
  • Unsettling to the work group
  • Counterproductive

Not everyone engages in their work role as a healthy, self-managing adult contributing to the collective good whether ‘the boss’ is watching or not.

Containment tools

Neuromarketing is a well-established research field predicting the buying-decision effects of various stimuli on the human brain. Neuro-leadership is an emerging field applying brain research to organisational leadership and optimum human performance. Perhaps the time has come for a new discipline: neuro-management, given that some apparently healthy brains may have some crossed wires.

If neuro-leadership explores aspiration, adaptation, achievement and competitive advantage, then neuro-management provides tools of containment and control of behavioural distractions.

Healthy boundaries

Greg McKeown explains what happens when people’s interpersonal boundaries are faulty. Behaviour extremes result where:

  1. There is inadequate protection of others from you – you may behave as overbearing or volatile
  2. There is inadequate protection of you from others – you may become vulnerable (and increasingly fragile) or walled off


If someone’s behaviour is detrimental to their social group and the group does not sanction that behaviour (for any reason), the individual develops a warped and inaccurate sense of their value to the group. Pretty soon, they become preoccupied with their own self-serving agenda.

Once this pattern sets in, it becomes resistant to change and the distractions are costly – more so than many realise.


The manager who negotiates a strong team culture  creates the necessary team tension that contains anti-team tendencies. Managers go wrong when they incorrectly believe that bad behaviour goes with the territory and is something they have to put up with, manage, suffer or endure for fear of a negative backlash. Uncertainty or hesitation on their part unwittingly fuels an individual’s warped view of themselves making things worse.


Too many managers say, “Don’t get me wrong, they are an excellent worker, but……………” No! Thinking this way is directly feeding the monster that you then complain about. They are not an excellent worker unless team success is their #1 priority and they are prepared to put their own needs (neurotic or otherwise) second.

Healthy boundaries and ‘collective agreements’

Successfully applying containment principles of neuro-management (managing the brains on the payroll) requires that you:

  1. Develop an aspirational, shared view of the team purpose and clearly-articulated team rules of engagement with agreements as to how success and alignment with team rules will be monitored and maintained. The South Sydney Rabbitohs (who have just qualified for the NRL Grand Final for the first time in 42 years) have a team saying: “Block the noise.” How apt for the average workplace.
  2. Agree continuous improvement as a team ethos so that roles are secure through the team being seen as increasingly valuable by sponsors and customers.

Once you have this aspirational, team-driven, “collective agreement”, play up any anti-team behaviours for the team to resolve. The manager’s job (as neuro-manager) is to ensure people remain viscerally aware of their impact on others and team success – there are only two choices: opt in or opt out.


People are social creatures. The human brain is highly-sensitive to acceptance or otherwise by its social group. This is a strong influence that ensures groups can survive and thrive. Tap into these natural forces and channel attention in the right direction. Connect the dots for people so they remain aware of (and meet the needs of) their support environment.

These forces already exist; simply ensure they remain visible and operational to channel the team’s thinking and actions.

Leading and managing these workplace elements will give your team every chance of success no matter what the situational challenges and unexpected changes.


About Cherri Holland

Fascinated with business, brains and how to use the brains on the payroll to make business buzz.
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