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Attention-seeking – when a useful behaviour turns sour

You might associate attention-seeking behaviour with children or puppies, but you’ve probably met an adult or two who has also spent too much effort making sure they’re constantly in the spotlight. However, despite what you may think, this might be just the trait you need in a business partner: someone who won’t shy away from public speaking or who can easily command the attention in a room. The truth is, successful attention-seeking adults are usually quite good at what they do. But, there are times when attention-seeking behaviours stem from an unhealthy place or cause strife between partners producing negative outcomes for the business. According to Andrea F. Polard Psy.D., psychologist and author of A Unified Theory of Happiness, here are a few examples of how your partner’s attention-seeking behaviour may be turning sour*.

They fish for compliments

Are they constantly talking about their achievements or even putting themselves down unnecessarily to try to get a compliment from you? Asking for criticism or feedback is one thing, but fishing for compliments comes off as needy or egotistical. Having to constantly praise your partner will get old quickly, for you and everyone else. This might cause avoidance behaviours and reluctance to engage, which is not healthy for business partnerships.

They’re purposefully controversial

Does your business partner often disagree with people or make derogatory comments for shock value? Do they enjoy the fall-out, basking in the attention that their off-putting comment has provided them with? This behaviour is not only an unhealthy way to garnish attention but it is also very dangerous to the business. We are living in the rise of “cancel culture”, where people boycott businesses that condone any sort of offensive behaviour, so your partner can land you in some pretty deep water with that sort of action. All this, plus what it might do to you to constantly be baited into unnecessary friction, could negatively affect your relationship.

They feign incompetence

This means pretending not to be able to do something in order to be granted attention being taught or watched. This one might be the most annoying in a business setting. Having a partner that feigns incompetence will severely affect the partnership, break down trust, and could potentially affect how clients, investors, and even employees perceive the leadership.

Where is this negative attention-seeking behaviour coming from?

Attention-seeking behaviour in adults is not very well researched, as attention-seeking is mostly seen as an issue in school age children, but some causes for this behaviour seem to stem from: jealousy, low self-esteem or loneliness. It could also be a remnant of childhood behaviours. Remember, this type of attention-seeking behaviour isn’t exactly the one created by a mixture of good looks and a high charisma score, but there might be overlap.

There are a few steps you can take to discourage this sort of behaviour, it includes removing positive reinforcement when you see an unwanted behaviour.

Not all attention-seeking is negative, in the following situation, it’s useful: Lance* is the cofounder at an app development firm and his partner, Michael, seems to always attract the spotlight. Michael is confident, extroverted, and an expert in his field. “I am happy to let Michael carry the weight of being the “frontman”, Lance states, “I prefer being in the background and actually work more effectively without the distraction.” Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be able to figure out if your partner’s attention-seeking behaviour is detrimental to the partnership or an asset to company growth and culture.

It’s bad, how do I fix it?

Perhaps all of these points are hitting too close to home and you’re wondering if there is anything you can do to make the situation a little better. There are a few steps you can take to discourage this sort of behaviour, it includes removing positive reinforcement when you see an unwanted behaviour. That means, if they’re fishing for a compliment, don’t give them one. Do one better and give them that compliment when they’re not demanding attention.

You can also dig a little deeper with your partner, especially if you have an open and honest line of communication. Use the questions under the SAPA analysis as a starting point and together, find the reason why your partner feels the need to garnish so much attention. After going through the SAPA analysis questions, here are some more that will help you dig even deeper:

Do you think you were an attention-seeker as a child? Did you ever get in trouble for it?
Did you feel anxious, lonely or forgotten as a child?
What do you feel when you have a room’s attention? Is it a positive feeling? Do you feel like you need it?
What are the positive effects of getting the attention seeking at your company? Could it be negatively affecting the business?
Is someone’s attention seeking truly and issue or just an annoyance? Could this be overlooked or should it be addressed?

*Names changed to protect privacy

The Cofounder's

An A-Z guide for those in, or searching for, a business partnership.

The Cofounder’s Handbook provides insight, practical advice, and proven tips from actual real-world cofounders on how to build and maintain a rewarding partnership.

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