Freedom Costs | The Opportunity Costs of being Complaint Free

emotional_rollercoaster_slide

Wow, What a roller coaster ride!  You never know how much potential a situation has to escalate until you find yourself saying absolutely nothing.  You ever see that angry stormy guy in the office, who looks like he’s one off-the cuff comment from exploding on you? Yeah, that’s the kind of energy I’ve been staving off over the past couple of weeks. And I mean, I’m not above admitting it’s been something I’ve been really wrestling with.  I spent a good portion of the first part of this period in CYA mode.  I didn’t realize how much documentation I really had in my possession but it’s actually enough to disrupt the operations of my entire department (so I’ve been trying to determine what my ethical responsibilities are) since I know that I’ll be asked to complete an exit interview when I leave the organization about my reasons for leaving.

If you were in my position, what would YOU say?

I’m actually waiting for my performance review (which should be coming up in the next month) to address a lot of these issues. This approach was recommended to me by someone who used to work in the HR department, and since things have been tense enough around the office for me to understand that it’s going to come up in my performance review, I’ve already included my intent to discuss it in my self evaluation under the portion where I’m supposed to evaluate the work I did this year as a supervisor.  And when I say I have a LOT of documentation, I mean that I literally have piles of student performance records, anytime I worried that there may be a problem escalating due to conflicting directives, client complaints, etc. I have put it into writing.  I even thought very seriously about creating a histogram outlining the staff behavioral progressions/regressions that compliment their policies and the effectiveness of the boundary constraints under which I’ve been placed. But I’ll probably save that for my memoirs or something, idk…

In the meantime, I’ve been really working on “sharpening the saw,” so to speak so that I understand what my responsibility is in terms of the energy I bring to the space, the boundaries I articulate, taking the steps I need to ask for what I need and document those efforts, going through the necessary final steps before I make a decision about whether or not to go through a formal reporting process, and to what extent, etc.

may-sharpen-the-saw

sharpen-the-saw

I’ve also had to go through a pretty strict regime of filling out job applications, scheduling play, coordinating restorative meal plans and making myself get back into my workouts (which I’d been blowing off to fill out job applications). Because let’s face it, I’m terrified that I will sabotage the very thing I am working toward (being a happier, healthy person and an effective leader), if I stop taking care of myself.

Then yesterday afternoon, we had a festival in town. I had scheduled the time off from my routine and bam, I had a great time.  The Facebook status I left at 2am read (I know, who uses Facebook anymore):

I couldn’t have prayed for a better evening; incl. randomly running into an old college buddy in the park, hanging out with an old professor he was meeting in town, having a brownie and a milkshake while swapping jokes with these really funny guys I hadn’t seen in awhile, spending time at the bluegrass festival with some of my local artisan friends, getting to see one of our vendors (and friends from one of the local businesses) fire dancing, followed by an impromptu bourbon guitardy at my place that degenerated into hilarious cat whisperer reality tv (upon the recommendation of one of my artisan friends). If today was any indication of the rest of my weekend, then I am truly blessed beyond belief.

And it worked.

I woke up this morning feeling like a whole new person. It’s amazing what a difference it can make when you go out of your way to surround yourself with the people and activities that you love.  I think right now I’m having one of those Bucky Fuller moments where I’m beginning to wonder; how would my life be different if I only surrounded myself with people who inspired me, encouraged me or made me feel valued and loved? Or if when I couldn’t help who I was around that I filtered my attention toward creating the kind of environment where I encouraged other people and made them feel valued? Then I suddenly realized, that’s what I do. It’s what up until recently I have always done.  Except with those who I didn’t feel contributed to that environment, albeit through poor ethics, lack of accountability, whatever.  Which means that I need to re-evaluate how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.

brain_stress

And I may not say anything to actively discourage them, but my body language has always just shifted to neutral, or if I feel as if I am being asked to do something with questionable ethics, I have been very direct in asking them to clarify the boundary constraints of what they are asking me to do. (e.g. The supervisor who told me not to assign tasks and to email him when his workers are off task, often forgets that he has done this, chooses not to respond under the guise of being too busy, or shrugs things off which he doesn’t believe to be important). So I’ve been pretty wound up lately because things have more or less degenerated in our office, because he, queen bee, and level 6 have opted for the de-constructivist approach to management during the time of year  when we host one of our biggest annual events, and people have begun to notice.  Sales are down, clients are dismissing our lapse in service with the transition in our staff (because half our staff grew so disengaged they just stopped coming in, or just come in whenever they feel like it).  The whole thing has just turned into one giant cluster (literally) of people partying and hanging out around my cubicle.

So cue me: I get to be hyper-vigilant guy. I’m just a huge ball of frustrated anger, sitting over in the corner judging how this whole situation is being mismanaged.  At this point I’m not even keeping data anymore, because it would literally take up more time to document than it would to put headphones in, but I can’t ignore it. And this isn’t because I’m being obsessive or anything, literally the higher I crank up my 80s power ballads so I can’t see or hear what is going on while I’m working, the more that signals to queen bee and level 6 that the behavior will go unchecked, so more people gather around our cubicle and it actually attracts quite a bit of attention from our clients and the other department who don’t know I’ve been systematically dis-empowered from being able to correct the behavior.  In all of their eyes, I’m still the one who should be accountable.

And it’s not just in this way, concurrently we had another issue arise in which I published the summer schedule, I knew we had a lot of people heading off on sabbatical this summer, so I didn’t question the scheduling gaps because I assumed that the schedule I received from upper management reflected whatever contracts were negotiated with our vendors for this period.  So when I published our events calendar, I received an email from one of our vendors asking if this meant that we wouldn’t be carrying their product anymore because upper management had never discussed the dissolution of their contract.  And it was very uncomfortable, because the vendor had been with us for a very long time, and was in a cooperative with several of our other vendors. I go to church with the rep for this particular vendor and because of the way this thing was handled, we had not only violated a business contract, but a social contract as well (and we’re in a small town where everyone including myself LOVES this rep, who brings quite a bit of social equity to our services which is one of the reasons why the contract with the vendor has lasted so long).  And even though I know that the vendors are going to hold me accountable for the decision making of the person who neglected their duty, there wasn’t much I could do within the parameters of this ethical grey area.  As frustrating as this whole situation was, I couldn’t acknowledge that the person had wronged her because of the professional ethics associated with this situation (even if it is true). In fact, the only thing that I could do within the boundary constraints I was given, was encourage the vendor to try and get in touch with the senior manager, who I knew would not be accessible and would actively avoid the conversation by saying they were too busy to make a 5 minute phone call, that could have saved us from escalating this very preventable issue. So now the other vendors are also pissed (but the senior level managers aren’t around to take the heat), so here I am, paying the consequences on their behalf.

So this is why things have been a little stormy for me.

 

CT Alice_Walker_James02.JPG

A wise woman by the name of Alice Walker once said, “no person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.”

 

But I also know that I have a responsibility to be accountable for the energy I bring to the space, so I’ve been trying to figure out which actions I can take so that I can reassert the boundaries that I need to in order to keep the peace until I can find my next job.  I’ve got about 12 applications completed. And I’ve only applied to organizations that have been very intentional about making it clear that they only want people who value others and who share the same level of commitment that I do to ethics and creating a positive work environment.  So you can imagine I’ve been in my head a lot about what lessons from these experiences I’m going to want to take with me and what kind of energy I want to bring into my interviews.  But also, I’ve had this intense desire to really get my personal life back on track so that I can remember what it’s like to experience that, so that I can easily recognize the organizations that are genuinely good not just in mission but in practice as well.  The organization in which I work now has articulated these great values and commitments toward valuing all people, dignity in labor and so on, but there are no real mechanisms in place for reporting when senior level managers aren’t living up to that.

So our organization has lost a lot of really wonderful people who have just opted to leave and the problem still goes unreported and uncorrected.

But not being able to do ANYTHING I think has created more angst and anxiety than doing the wrong thing I think mostly because I feel as if I do NOTHING that I increase the risk of undermining my own credibility once others perceive that I am contributing to the problem by neglecting what the believe to be my responsibilities. Especially since my workspace is the most visible. So I’ve had to rock the boat a little bit and be more assertive which isn’t making things at work easier, but is allowing me to at the very least keep those boundaries.

The problem is, all of this hyper-vigilance and fear based tension is marginally effective and frankly exhausting. I’m hoping that the performance review will give me the opportunity to be direct (albeit minimally confrontational) so that I don’t have to continue doing things that I know are making my work environment increasingly hostile (e.g. pulling my supervisor aside to ask whether he has assignments for the people congregating around my desk and explaining how their presence is hindering my ability to do my work, and yes I would prefer that he provide the directive since he has already established the precedent that the workers no longer have to uphold our organizational policy if it comes from me).  Or having to ask him to resolve the issue with the vendor because he did not seem to understand the  ramifications of his judgment and the effect it had upon the other vendors because he wasn’t the one who had to be here to deal with the consequences. Yeah, it doesn’t matter how composed and professional you are, implying that someone else isn’t pulling their weight is never a fun topic, which is why I generally try to avoid it.  And of course I didn’t state it that way.  I’m much more direct and in these situations I will start with asking for what I need, and then if it’s questioned

do you happen to have task list on hand for these guys?”

…and after it’s kind of shrugged off then I get into the meat of it…

when we spoke, you asked me to do ___ and I have made it a point not to step outside of those boundaries, but the outcome of said policy has resulted in ___ behavior, so if you would like me to continue to operate within those constraints, I am going to need for you to uphold your end of what we discussed.”

…yeah, it’s kind of bitchy, if you’re not used to being in the kind of environment where you have to share accountability… but necessary if you’re in the kind of environment where expectations have yet to be clarified and norms need to be established…

At most I’m met with an eye roll and the problem is then corrected, then I try at the very least to keep things courteous to reinforce the behavior for the rest of the day.  But this is only in extreme cases.  Most of the time I’m much more cooperative than that, mostly because I empowered my workers to take ownership of the policies and to remain accountable to one another using peer influence.  I never thought I’d be witnessing the downside of peer influence. Thankfully, the regression in overall behavior hasn’t occurred significantly in anyone that I’ve directly managed. Unfortunately, many of those workers have made arrangements to transfer out or to go on sabbatical during this transitional period. I don’t blame them. Heck, if I could get away with it, I would too.

So this brings us back to my dilemma, is it more important that I ask the organization to create a better mechanism for reporting or is it more important to focus upon re-evaluating how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.  I don’t know if you had the opportunity to check out the cat video (I can’t believe I’m saying this), but the cat whisperer has some really interesting points that I hadn’t considered.

 

This is where my motivations fall.

documentation

And although I initially viewed my documentation as an opportunity to correct and reinforce positive behaviors, the moment that I stopped doing that, I began acting solely in my own self interest (or CYA mode).

This is where I'd like to be.

This is where I’d like to be.

This is where I’d like to focus my attention. And I can’t do that if my attention is focused upon the behavior of my colleagues, which is hard, because as of late it has been rather disruptive. I’m going to have to find a way to be proactive about bringing constructive and affirmative energy into the space so that I can be a more effective and accountable leader, both personally and professionally.

So I’m not entirely sure what that entails as of late, but I certainly have some really fascinating work ahead of me, esp. if there’s a chance I can find a way to make something positive of this situation or to resolve it effectively.

Advertisements

Shell Shocked and Ship Wrecked

screen-shot-2012-03-10-at-3-09-17-pm

Today was a little hard. I spent today in my last professional development training of the series. Today’s topic: Bringing Out the Best in Others. In one sense, it was a wonderful affirmation of the work I’d been doing. The suggestions I made early on, the additional (albeit unnecessary) work I’d done sharpening the saw so to speak, reading professional development books, attending trainings, and consulting with mentors to make sure that I was responsible for everything I contributed. But in another, and I had this sickening realization during lunch (when my boss’s boss popped into the training to scavenge free food and asked me what I thought of the training), that at the top level of our department, he not only didn’t understand the value of improving the quality of leadership for our workers with the behavior we modeled, but that he also had no intention of trying to understand why encouraging us to equip ourselves (and workers) better would benefit our organization as a whole. Quite frankly I got a distinct impression that he wasn’t interested. He had only popped in hoping that I’d reaffirm my boss’s criticism of the professional development training; that I’d believe it was a waste of time; but frankly, it wasn’t. Our entire department should have been there.

One thing stuck out to me as I left today’s training. The facilitator, thanked us for taking the initiative to attend the training. He also made the statement in closing that albeit one of the workplace expectations for the entire organization was to act with integrity and caring toward others (which is outlined in writing on all of our orientation documents given to us in training by our human resources department), that more often than not, those who are often in most need of the training, often don’t see a need for attending. And I felt as if I’d seen many instances where that rang true in my department. Then he concluded with the following quote my performance management expert and author Ken Blanchard:

I think people lose their commitment only after they realize that good performance doesn’t make a difference.

 

Ann_2

It left me with kind of a sick feeling. It’s not the first time I’ve felt it, but as a general rule I’ve learned very quickly not to repeat the kinds of experiences in which I work really hard and inevitably come to this feeling.  To lose one’s sense of purpose in the place where they cumulatively spend the hours per day is undoubtedly discouraging and often times disorienting.  For the better part of two years (11 months to be exact), I’ve had to come to grips that what I believe to be the values of my organization, and the values of the colleagues and leadership in my department just aren’t in alignment. So I’ve just been doing the best I can to model and create the conditions for a healthy environmental climate through the behavior I model and can record until I can make an ethical transition to something better suited.

But what I realized in the process of working to simply “make the best of things” that I undermine my own effectiveness as a leader and a mentor without having a consistent, routine pattern of reinforcement to demonstrate for my workers when I encourage them to work with integrity (with the understanding that they will be rewarded for their performance), if we don’t share those expectations as an organization or within a department). Which is awkward, and makes me feel as if I am merely reinforcing unhealthy behavior by continuing to stay in that environment. Typically when I can feel the toxins of resentment begin to set in, I take a step back from trying to control everything and just focus upon resting, or developing some tracking system because I think I secretly want to find out that things aren’t as bad as they seem, that they all are just a manifestation of some erroneous pattern I’ve detected in my head.  But what I hate to admit is that the amount of time I spent picking myself apart trying to identify what more I need to give, trying to fix it, is only setting a dangerous precedent and pattern of behavior that I don’t feel comfortable modeling (and would actively discourage) teaching these workers, and I’m not sure how to reconcile it, or that I can.

ann-perkins-cardigan-gray-jeans-parks-and-recreation

What I am sure of is that I’ve exhausted more time than I care to trying to really take ownership of making improvements.  I’ve gotten some great performance feedback from my entry level workers and lower level supervisors, and we’ve had the highest level of leadership retention during our contract renewals that we’ve had in the 6 years I’ve been affiliated with our organization.  So I have the evidence I need to support that the work that I contribute matters and that it’s been a critical component of our capacity to build effective performance and other positive outcomes for the rest of our staff.  But as often as I’ve tried, and as much as I would have liked to be able to write off some of our under-performers off (which can at times include members of our leadership staff), I’m not in a position to be able to correct the areas that are most needed, if we don’t share the same vision or expectations.  But I don’t suppose it’s ever easy when you have to sit back and watch others waste the valuable talent and potential because someone else undervalued it.  And who knows, it’s very possible that I may even overvalue the merits of my contributions.  But based upon the feedback I gained from peers I met from other departments who also attended these trainings, the consensus seems to be, that I’m doing a lot of things right and in alignment with the goals of our organization.  But we all understand that it would not be wise on any of our parts to air our grievances in that specific context.  Not if we comply with the expectation to act with integrity.

So I’ve just been sitting on this information, and trying to figure out what to do in order to reconcile it so that I can make it in to work without dreading it tomorrow.  So for this afternoon, my hump day mental detox activities included a  movie, dinner, a 2 mile walk out in the sun after work, then I came home and plucked around on the guitar for awhile.  I played through the cords for Zee Avi’s Bitter Heart, John Denver’s Take me home country roads, I’ll fly away and Wayfaring Stranger (finally nailed the “f” barre chord). I may have also slipped a little bit of makers into my iced tea after dinner.  But not enough that I can’t wake up early and go for an early morning run before work.

On my walk I really tried to focus upon this really compelling meme I read from Steve Maraboli:

9fd66754da3188a402de54d3665afde3

I asked myself, in this situation, if I don’t want to feel like the victim here, and if I’m going to be able to re-frame this experience in a positive light during my exit interviews or to a prospective employer, then what does it mean to become the hero of my own story?

one of the answers that emerged was to separate myself from the scenario for a moment to create something of beauty. The rationalization was that this would help me remember that there are some things that I can control that have nothing to do with the transactional agreement between myself and the place where I contribute work in exchange for pay, and to connect with neglected parts of me that longed to be validated (hence why I opted for the guitar session).

Ann's_House_3

…another was to reconsider the need for scripting an internal narrative. Anyone with eyes could see that I really struggled and wrestled with the role I was in, but somehow I miraculously made it work, because I valued the relationships between my workers, vendors and clients who were much more forgiving of our organizational shortcomings because I honored those relationships by making them feel valued and appreciated (minus the outliers I’ve mentioned previously).  So if anyone gave me a hard time for walking away from all of this, and I felt the need to be defensive (which internally has been a whirlwind and has caused me a great deal of distress), that I could simply state that:

“…it seems as if you may already have an idea of what you expect me to articulate; so why don’t you tell me what you expect my answer to that question to be, and I’ll either confirm or deny those assumptions… if anything it will at the very least give you a clear picture of the kind of impressions I may have left upon you.”

and then I can just be done with it.

Any explanation I can give that wouldn’t sound like a laundry list would more than likely have to be biblical in nature at best: “I’ve done a lot of praying about it, and I feel as if God may be trying to lead me elsewhere…

I don’t need to harbor all of that other stuff.  I wouldn’t be sharing anything that wasn’t blatantly obvious and if they really do want good honest feedback about their experiences, our organization has gotten to be quite the expert at qualitative research surveys.

...at least that was my understanding of it...

…at least that was my understanding of it…

No Rhyme nor Reason

Click image for brief anecdote.

Click image for brief anecdote.

 

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”
Dorothy Thompson

Yesterday I attended a conflict management workshop that I’d signed up for since I didn’t want to squander the opportunity to make use of the professional development resources that my workplace offers.  You know, I’ve booked our venue for that particular facilitator before and our management staff would always make snarky commentary about the fact that the facilitator would book the room to set up for the event on the night before. I eventually was able to steer to conversation back on topic by looking wide-eyed and really uncomfortable and then delicately following up with the comment, “I’m sure he means well…” and then those that encouraged the behavior would start to feel a little bit uncomfortable, the laughter would die down and that would sort of be the end of it.

After attending today’s training session, however, I can see where the extra planning went.  The facilitator did not just read off a bunch of slides to us or or even force us to talk about uncomfortable issues, he really took us through an artfully facilitated experience.  It was so well-executed in fact that I knew about 5 minutes into it that when I got home I was going to more than likely blog about it.

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits.  Mindmap

One of the major emphases of this session that he wanted us to focus upon was upon understanding how our own personal conflict styles impacted our perception of the way others approached conflict.  So he took us through a Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory and then had us read over and discuss whether we noticed correlations within our behavior when we experienced what he referred to as “storm shifts” in behavior as we watched conflicts escalate.

I scored almost identically under the cooperative conflict style for my primary (calm) and secondary (storming) mechanisms for approaching conflict.  Some of the costs associated with over-using this particular style included

  • fatigue & time loss
  • distraction from more important tasks
  • analysis paralysis
  • exhaustion from fear of “too much processing”

particularly if the person using this framework is unskilled in dealing with conflict.  The benefits, however, include a high potential for increased creativity and personal growth, a better understanding of the situation, the opportunity to build team cohesion and self knowledge.

My particular pattern typically played out the following way: my first reaction to conflict is to tend and directly address the issue at hand to negotiate for the win-win, but if these attempts are rejected I respond to the shock I experience by withdrawing momentarily to gather relevant data and information, so that I can assess it in a calm and methodical way in order to comfortably enter negotiations and resolve them efficiently once things have calmed down.

I might look for relevant details, plans, options, weigh costs, check for policy compliance, and precedents from elsewhere before making that decision, and if the situation requires a directive, I either make it and do the best I can to explain what course of action I’ve taken, who’s involved in that process if they want to appeal and my basis for evidence that led me to the decision.  Occasionally those discussions may take place retroactively, but once I have better information it becomes easy to let the person I’m experiencing conflict with make a decision about how they are going to react to this conflict, what they stand to benefit and what’s at risk should they choose an action that doesn’t reflect everyone’s best interest.

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

What I also learned is that your previous experiences with a particular conflict style (e.g. I associate those who raise their voice or snap at others in order to be dismissive with prior associations in which those who used that style, often people who I cared about very deeply, resurfaced that conflict because of some previous form of conflict they hadn’t resolved previously that left them feeling un-affirmed, hurt and afraid of being abandoned when they encountered that previous conflict… and those patterns of behavior, that imprinting was passed on.  Often large, demonstrative expressions of anger reflect

  • accumulation of resentment due to needs that haven’t been acknowledged or met
  • a fear of being perceived as weak or threatened when approached to engage with someone they haven’t built trust with but have been approached by to engage in conflict
  • resistance out of the belief that one is being denied the right to be validated for simply being themselves
  • inability to articulate of boundaries

According to the book that was recommended to us to supplement the assessment: Style Matters, when dealing with those who have a more in-your-face conflict style or a history of abusing others, my best plan of action is to withdraw to safety but I need to express when I do so a clear intention to return and work on things once things cool off.  Otherwise it will escalate their anxiety and increase the likelihood of the behavior increasing.

Susan Wheelan states that:

“We know from our experience that it is easier to develop trust in another person or in a group if we believe that we can disagree, and we will not be abandoned or hurt for our differences. It is difficult to trust those who deny us the right to be ourselves.”
5 styles

 

Kraybill seemed to believe that a direct correlation existed between the way a person approached a particular conflict style and the importance we placed upon whether we valued our agendas more over our relationships.  I realize now that the emphasis I place upon how important the agenda I’d like to convey definitely determines the approach I display when working through conflict because I absolutely hate the idea of giving up on a relationship, especially if I find the relationship to be important.  But the moment that I realize that the other party places little value upon the relationship, the easier it is for me to divest and redirect my emphasis upon confirming my rationalization (coming up with evidence for whether/why I’m right in case I have to protect myself) rather than placating the other person in order to try and salvage that relationship.

So I suppose in a way, I can be a bit willful myself.  But I think having that self knowledge and understanding which considerations I need to make (e.g.

  • whether the circumstance requires that I place more importance upon the relationship or the issue,
  • the time and energy constraints for addressing the conflict,
  • weighing potential consequences,
  • and alternative approaches to mitigate any damaging effects).

 

We may be able to move forward and to develop more healthy and appropriate avenues for working through workplace conflict.

18 ways to be more positive at work

c39d47da-b4d8-11e3-bb7c-12313d318c38-large

Found this on Linkedin today.  Thought I’d include it with some of the coping strategies I keep listed on a post it I have hanging from my computer monitor at my desk.

We’re Going to be Alright

c1a89a4461504aa3e18c4e94019ea87b

Say to yourself, regardless of what you are facing…I’m going to be all right. Create an energy of peace, healing and hope around yourself. Whatever it is…finances, unexpected challenges, health concerns, job security, or long-term changes in your life situation.

Despite what you see, hear, and feel…say to yourself…I’m going to be all right. Calm your mind, speak to your body, rest your spirit. Allow yourself to relax so that you can sleep at night. With this mindset, you will be all right!! You Deserve!

—Les Brown

Sometimes when we’re under duress, we can become shell shocked by the challenges we face, become exhausted and deplete our inner reserves of oxytocin (trust) and dopamine (what we find rewarding). Since I never did make up a decision about what to give up for Lent this year, (last year it was negativity…. the outcome of which was AWESOME), I’ve decided that for the remainder of this Lent that I’m going to create a log of activities, experiences and people that I find replenish those reserves — which means that I’ll have to be intentional about creating experiences to discover these things. I have a pretty good list already that I keep at my desk, but I’m hoping that I can implement some of these into my daily practice so that I can anchor some of these behaviors in response to undesirable behaviors. Currently in real time my favorite go-tos are either talking it out (my first go-to) finding tasks that let me appear to be productive but more importantly remove me from the undesirable behavior (when I find that talking doesn’t seem to be effective), or finding another person (usually another person or client) I can take an interest in to change the vibe rather than focus upon the person being rude. A.k.a. modeling the behavior I’d like to see.

I like the idea of imprinting biochemical markers, because I think our first inclination is react (or in my case to withdraw since liability risk is a considerable anchor I have to factor in), so this acknowledges that feedback from those red flags and allows me to redirect my energies to the kind of behaviors that are designed to keep me emotionally and psychologically healthy too.

The Secret to Creating Inclusion in the Workplace

1621795_700830366604573_517782269_n

Lean in.

Want to Know the Secret to Creating Inclusion (and advancing the role of women and minorities) in the Workplace?

Hire the kind of people who wholeheartedly believe in the value of building each other up rather than tearing each other down.

When men do nothing

Token+Black+Guy+is+Not+Amused_750d65_3623826

This morning at a community event, I was standing with a group of people from another department who I used to be really good friends with before I got promoted and a young African American male who only knew the group from grief social interactions, but for the most part got along with the group. There was one woman in the group, fairly young (about 19) and not very well versed in social etiquette that I didn’t know very well, and another African American male who was relatively new to the group, but often used his home to host his peers for social gatherings, usually involving a large amounts of alcohol. I’d stopped attending these gatherings once I got promoted to maintain that professional boundary and so the only real association I had with the group was at these community events.

The group surprisingly enough, showed up this morning after one of their all night shindigs and as we were watching the event, I overheard the African American male get upset at the young woman for using the n word. One member of the group, not the African American, stated, “c’mon man, why are you trying to make it out to be like that.” The girl defended her action by stating that it was from a rap song she had heard and that it wasn’t been a big deal because she was only quoting something she had heard from the other African American in the group.

Their attempts to condone the behavior only escalated the man’s anger and despite my attempts to persuade him to dismiss the matter until he could speak with the other African American male at a more appropriate time, the group convened, and wandered off to placate the matter among themselves.

The young man, looking to me for a sympathetic ear, found that I validated his reason for being upset as well as his decision to articulate that he felt uncomfortable with the usage of the word, but that I did feel as if he also had a responsibility to modulate how he reacted in those situations, because it wasn’t going to be the last time he was going to find himself in those situations — and unfortunately, since that group was in the class that was going to get promoted he was going to have to find a way to manage his responses better if he was going to mitigate the risk of limiting his opportunities every time he responds. I reminded him that she was 19, probably still drunk from the night before and that once he realized that his friends picked her side over his that it was in his best interest to leave and disassociate from the group rather than exacerbate the situation.

Because it wasn’t a work event there’s not much I can do to help him in that situation, and I’ve had conversations with people in the past about their responsibilities as the offended or as perpetrators when a derogatory word is used. Even though I did educate the guy to a very real and recurring reality, I do feel this very deep seated sense of disappointment that I had in fact done something wrong. I spend most of my time trying to instill in my workers that hard work should be rewarding and that there is merit in acting with good character, yet in the instant that a real problem arises I didn’t back him up and the only person who left the situation feeling as if he’d done something wrong was the person who I should have defended.

Irish statesman Edmund Burke once said that:

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

and today I regret to admit that I dropped the ball on this and for that I am DEEPLY and regrettably sorry.

As a token minority I often hear people say (usually of one specific cohort) that it’s unnecessary to make race issues a big deal because these days we live in a colorblind society. I’m about 90% certain that’s only true for those who haven’t been discriminated against. And whether or not the girl intended to be malicious with her statement, I have no doubt in my mind that the girl did something wrong. And her friends were reckless not to pull her aside and gently remind her that it’s quite normal and valid for someone you don’t know to get offended if you use language that someone in the group may consider to be derogatory.

Does that mean you have to censor your language?

I’m not going to tell another freedom loving American what they can and can’t say, but I think that we all need to remember that the way that we respond to these kinds of situations sets a precedent for what kind of behavior we condone as normal and acceptable in our society. And as long as some people get to be offended by reckless and tasteless behavior but not others then it’s completely valid and healthy for that person to articulate that they don’t condone the behavior. To take offense to that is an indicator of weak stewardship, weak character and is often one of the first things you find in an unjust and inequitable society.

People are often quick to bemoan the afflicted for speaking out against these kinds of behavior.  And I can understand why, it makes others uncomfortable and most people would rather not talk even talk about it, especially in “polite company” or what should be a light and fun social setting.

The truth of the matter is, standing up to someone can be incredibly exhausting, especially if there’s a likelihood that you will increase the risk of being stigmatized by your peers because of it.

What we should be doing instead of reinforcing the humiliation people experience when we condone this behavior with our silence is acknowledging that our own lack of accountability often makes the problem worse. The states of hyper-vigilance that result afterward (from both parties) are but a symptom that somewhere along the line we have mismanaged the situation, and in order to create the kind of environment where people feel safe and valued, we each have a responsibility to intervene when these things happen so that we can be responsive to the needs of those who have actually earned our support and make sure that these wrongs are corrected.