Why Do We Misbehave?

Misbehaving can be a great source of fun, pain-shame-guilt-blame, or both. Most of us know the right thing to do.

In one of my favorite movie scenes from Four Rooms, Antonio Banderas says to his kids, “Don’t Misbehave!” Clearly, the kids immediately devote themselves to misbehaving.


So, why do we misbehave? We misbehave for three reasons: altruism, delicious temptations, and vulnerabilities. 

We misbehave for three reasons: altruism, temptation, and vulnerabilities.


  • “Just helping”
  • Cutting corners
  • Turning a blind eye
  • Hiding the truth for or from others
  • Giving overly generous or false feedback

Delicious Temptations

George May came up with the Big Four to explain ethical mis-steps. Having lived in Miami most of my life, I add the fifth.

  • The Big Four includes greed, speed, laziness, and haziness.
  • Gurri’s Fifth is craziness.

Vulnerabilities and Resilience

Internal and external factors contribute to our moral strengths and weaknesses. Resilience is created when a workplace culture faces ethical dilemmas and handles them effectively. No one expects perfection. The challenge is to thrive in the face of change and disruption. The task is to reaffirm and update values and processes. Vulnerabilities include internal and external factors.

Internal factors

  • Feeling States: anger, hunger, desperation, frustration, fatigue
  • Entitlement: “I deserve it. The rules don’t apply to me.”
  • Culture: childhood culture, internalized family, neighborhood, workplace cultures
  • Mind Games: we can convince ourselves of many things that aren’t so
  • Bitterness: “It’s their fault. They owe me. It’s not fair.”

External Factors

  • Pressure: performance standards and deadlines, social, emotional, financial; being helpful, needed or important
  • Opportunity: isolation, privacy, independence
  • Culture: external culture of acceptance in a family, community, department, workplace
  • Financial: financial distress is a terrible pressure; desperation can challenge our values and commitments

The next time you or someone is misbehaving, ask yourself with compassion and courage, “Why? What do they need? How can I help turn this around?”