Can a leopard change its spots?

One of the “bad boys” of Australian tennis, Nick Kyrgios, has become one of the sport’s success stories this summer.

It was only in September that Australia’s greatest-ever male tennis player, Rod Laver, advocated for Kyrgios to be suspended from the ATP Tour for his many outbursts during the US tennis season.

Since then, Kyrgios has displayed a remarkable turnaround in his attitude and behaviour. However, it has been asked, how could that turnaround happen and will it last?

In other words, can a leopard change its spots?

Behavioural self-control is a competency that comes under the umbrella of social and emotional intelligence. Like all competencies, it can be learned, just as bad behaviour can be unlearned.

The workplace has its “bad boys”, too. Sometimes, they are employees, and sometimes, they are managers or business owners.

Feedback expert Georgia Murch says there are six triggers that create a lack of behavioural self-control. These triggers can cause us to get angry quickly, become depressed or agitated, get involved in inappropriate situations, and feel as though our “buttons” are being pushed. This means we can lash out and behave inappropriately.

The three types of triggers I see at play most often in the workplace are:

  1. Content: Someone is triggered by the fact there are errors in whatever is being said to them. They just don’t believe it’s true (and often, it’s not).
  2. Relationship: For example, an employee reacts to a boss, or a business owner reacts to an employee, who, in their view, is “milking the system”.
  3. Incompetence: Someone gets annoyed by a fellow worker who they deem is inept at their job.

It all starts with self-awareness. When we feel ourselves getting angry or agitated, we need to ask why and work out what the trigger is. We should then make a list of the things that cause us to “lose it”. I often sit with clients and help them create strategies to use when these events or triggers occur.

In addition to language, our tone of voice, volume and body posture can help us regain behavioural self-control. When you feel triggered, try taking a disassociated view of yourself in the moment, i.e. see yourself as another party would, then adopt the posture and composure of someone handling the situation well.

My experience is that whenever I’ve gotten angry, I’ve been more upset with myself than the other person has been with me.

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”


– Aristotle

If you need help working out strategies to overcome your triggers, email me at