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.

And I Have to Spend All Day with These People?

Suzy Welch (endorsed by Oprah) wrote an interesting article about how to deal with difficult co-workers or “un-teammates” as she referred to them.  In her article she gives tips for how to deal with:

 
6b381b66ce38abde90b48462a50c287349

  • Boss Haters: Most Boss Haters persist, using every kind of subterfuge from eye-rolling to outright belligerence, until management loses patience and ousts them. Some Boss Haters are hard to extricate because of union rules or special skills.
  •  Stars: many key players are Stars largely because they are the best kind of employee, inclusive and inspiring, but some Stars can develop into real bullies. Sensing they are untouchable, they will bulldoze their ideas through the team process and ridicule anyone who dares to disagree. They may also passively disrupt discussions by not participating, their silence sending the message “This nonsense is beneath me.”
  • Sliders: former Stars, resting on their laurels and undermining their teams with apathy. Their unspoken excuse is “I’ve proven my worth around here; I don’t need to scramble anymore.”
  • Pity Partiers: un-teammates who have an excuse for every act of inaction.  The most expert Pity Parties concoct long-running sympathy stories: bad backs, bad marriages, bad childcare, and so on. I don’t want to sound harsh. Sometimes people really do need time off or special accommodations, but Pity Parties make an art form of wriggling out of responsibility, and you’re left wondering if you’re a heel for resenting them—or a dupe for helping them.
  • The Self-Promoter: like “Look at Me” Margaret (not her real name), who saw every team assignment as an opportunity for personal advancement. In their pursuit of fame and glory, Self-Promoters occasionally sabotage peers. I once had a co-worker who used staff meetings, with the boss in attendance, to vociferously attack every other writer’s work as “hackneyed” or, her favorite word, “superficial.” If we pushed back against her critiques, she accused us of being competitive with her. There was no way to win. Usually, that’s the case with Self-Promoters. They can drub you with their narcissistic “logic”—they’re right; you’re just defensive—and wear you down with their egocentric career campaign.

 

sick1
 
If you’re curious about how Welch recommends dealing with these work-place offenders, be sure to check out her article.

 

While I find the article interesting, because I definitely recognize many  of these types, what I would have liked to have seen and will probably investigate more is suggestions for how to develop a culture of accountability if you aren’t in a position of authority so that you can eliminate the need for these behaviors.  One of the reasons that I opted to use the bully tracker is that it eventually eliminates the need to avoid conflict (which is the primary source of most of my anxiety — I’m used to being able to being able to address grievances directly and to ask for what I need).

 

I found an article from Harvard Business Review and was relieved to discover that I had followed the standard conflict resolution protocols before even reading these articles, but found that once I finally entertained that the person initiating the conflict might be unreachable that I might have begun to head into dangerous territory, which is why I keep compulsively trying to reject that idea.  The article shares:

 

When a colleague’s agenda is seemingly opposed to your own, it can be tempting to demonize him. Distorting other people is a common response to conflict, but not a particularly productive one. In fact, doing so undermines your ability to exert influence.

 

bad-manager

 

Most of the time when insubordination (or in the way we’d define it within the framework of behavioral economics competing agendas or interests) emerges within the workplace, most people attribute the problem to ineffective management.  And considering the circumstances, I definitely see evidence that would support that.  But given that I am considered by our clients, patrons and stakeholders to be accountable for the successes and failings of management, you can see why I derive so much anxiety regarding now knowing how to work around this.

 

Surprisingly enough, I did find an article on performance management that recommended that I approach this challenge with the exact same methods that I’d previously intuited.  And as you can tell, I really like the performance management approach because it gives you the advantage of tangible metrics that you can accessibly work with.  I can’t imagine that Welch’s approaches to conflict management yield a very high rate of return upon her investment.

 

What you may also find interesting is that I am currently reading a book about predictably irrational behavior and have just finished the chapter about how marketers us anchors in imprinting, and it occurs to me that it might be valuable to reassess how this experience has realigned my own anchors so I can set concrete goals about what I’d like to achieve so that I can perform an assessment of how I can go about creating achievable goals for my problematic worker so that we can modify her  behavior through consistent peer modeling and habitual re-enforcement (especially since peer acceptance seems to be one of her motivational drivers).  At the very least, if I can focus upon equipping her subordinates to fill in the gaps in the areas which she lacks leadership, it will make the team much more resilient through these new cultural norms.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

And I feel pretty confident I can do that.  She isn’t well versed in management or leadership enough to feel threatened by me working with the other leaders.  We have an organizational Youtube channel that I trained my office workers with, so that might serve as an excellent vehicle to clarify our policies, strategies for securing buy in and communicate these institutional norms.  Sweet! 🙂

Sizing me up

84d22e866962c82fc0af2afd17af25e1

So problematic worker surprisingly enough was in a good mood yesterday.  I spent the first part of her shift under the Martine’s protocol (only contributing to the conversations when I could add something pleasant, taking an interest in the other participants and politely excusing myself to work on another assignment when I began to feel myself become too anxious or hyper-vigilant). This worked well until the shift change when her clients and peers left and I found myself alone with her in the cubicle.

Thankfully we had a events occurring at our venue later this week and there was a day when they’d scheduled to turn the water off, so it allowed me to concentrate very intently on producing and distributing good signage around the building.  After I’d hung about 27 signs on each of the 3 stories, I came back to my desk to determine what other work I could do, but I suppose she was lonely or something, because she whipped her phone out and asked me whether or not I wanted to see a picture of her friend’s puppy (her friend had initially texted her to inform her that she’d planned on going out to get a tattoo and somehow came home with a puppy instead).  Then she told me about new phone cases she bought and some other stuff and I made an attempt to appear to be listening while I began to work on my next project because I didn’t expect her good mood to last long.

Then she did something surprising, she complimented me.

 

foxy

 

I forgot that I’d mentioned I’d bought this little bauble on ebay only it turned out to be much larger than I realized, so it felt kind of gaudy to wear daily, but I’d paired it with a sand colored shirt layered over a chambray top and topped with a brown quilted vest.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

She really liked the fox, to which my response was, “…what this little ole thing? well thank you.  It’s so big I wasn’t sure when I would have the occasion to wear it.” Then she complimented me again, but made sure to note specifically that she thought that I also looked “super cute” on Friday, the day of “the clipboard” incident.  Apparently she was a big fan of not only the scarf, which had generated a lot of buzz by lunchtime, but also the other accessories I’d paired with it — over my white long sleeve shirt and black trousers.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So I felt pretty good about things, for awhile.  I’d overheard that one of the clients who happened to linger a little longer at her desk than usual had just asked her out, so I kind of hoped that would be a good enough distraction to keep her occupied and in good spirits for awhile.

I was just grateful to see that she was making an effort to be nice.

Things even went well into today for the first hour of her shift.  I kept up as many social graces and just focused upon rapport building with our clients.  She did mention that she didn’t have breakfast this morning and she thought it made her mean when she hadn’t eaten.

Then after awhile, when I redirected the conversation back toward work and opened up a discussion asking her how she made decisions about what she prioritized for cleaning, because we had a few areas that were time sensitive, she got really nasty with me, so I literally just rolled my chair back into the corner and went back to my computer.

Later she tried to joke with me about one of her peers who had given her a Snicker’s Bar last night because he’d told her that, “she got really mean when she was hungry” I responded by saying, “well yeah, I wasn’t really sure how to respond to it, so I just figured it was better for me to find something else to do.” Then she told me a story about how she unnecessarily berated one of her friends over something really petty hoping that I’d understand.  But I didn’t.  I simply replied, “I suppose we should probably look at keeping some food back here then” and went back to my work.

Consequently, our cubicle right now is dead silent.  I’d actually started this post last night because I was looking forward to acknowledging that something positive happened and that perhaps I was being hyper-sensitive.  But I suppose when you’re in a capacity where you’re responsible for teaching someone else but you don’t have any real authority over them, sometimes you have to recognize that some people just aren’t receptive to being helped no matter how much you try to take an interest in them.

I would like to be able to say that I have an excellent ability to build rapport with people, and for the most part that is honestly true.

But there are certain patterns of behavior that really hinder that process, and I don’t know how to convey that to any person who knows better but does not respect themselves enough to value their relationships. I know technically by drawing a nonverbal boundary and making it evident that her emotional outburst are not acceptable, goes contrary to the rules of establishing rapport:

Rapport is important in both our professional and personal lives; employers are more likely to employ somebody who they believe will get on well with their current staff.  Personal relationships are easier to make and develop when there is a closer connection and understanding between the parties involved – i.e. there is greater rapport.

 

But I don’t believe it’s wise to set a precedent where I condone that kind of behavior or reinforce it as a behavioral norm. From what was articulated to me, it either sounds as if her friends have either enabled her behavior our of fear that they won’t be accepted or they’ve given it right back to her, which is what I’d more than likely do if she didn’t work for me.

 

I’ve done it with my peers (and am hereby known as the preppy feminist one), but have mitigated the incidents of considerable bullying.  I just worry that if I do cross that line I run the risk of being perceived as a bully.  And as we all know, perception may not be reality, but it can definitely have similar impacts and can also escalate very quickly. So it isn’t my preferred method of conflict resolution unless I have the resources and support I need to address things directly and ethically.

 

So I’m hoping that once I am able to formally address her about her behavior, we can put a stop to this although it’s good that she’s starting to think about these things. What I don’t want to happen is that I move to soon and exacerbate the situation to where she increasingly recognizes that she does something wrong but feels entitled to make poor choices anyway (which is a variation of the unhealthy behavior I had been witnessing).

 

I’m reminded of a quote I read fairly recently from an article that mentioned that
Although these problems are serious, it is important for supervisors to see the difference between employees who don’t do their work properly because they choose not to and employees who don’t do their work because they need help.
This is one of those things that I already know, but when you don’t have the authority to do anything about, it can cause you to second guess yourself. Several weeks ago I had no problem acknowledging that this was a person who valued being accepted more than they did being led, and that her unwillingness to contribute was what made her an outlier more than her lack of expertise.
There’s always a fear that focusing too much upon these kinds of issues will create a pattern of damage or mis-align focus and energy that I could be using to be productive.  But I just read an article that shared

 

When our brain attempts to solve a problem, it wants to be energetically efficient. So it begins by searching for surface answers—those that are easy and obvious. When it’s addressing a question, the brain combs the data “files” of what popular culture thinks of as the “left hemisphere” to find out if it’s seen the problem before. It doesn’t want to invent a solution if one already exists.

 

If there is no familiar and readily available response, that’s when our brain dedicates more energy to draw on deeper resources. It invites the more intuitive and imaginative right hemisphere to participate in solving the problem, scanning remote but possibly relevant memories and abstractions that could provide it with a solution. This information would normally be tuned out by the left hemisphere but has become available in a time of need. (Read: When we’re in that corner.)

 

In other words, solving higher-order, creative problems, requires the types of people who can activate the entirety of their brain, the analytical and the insightful, in order to push, poke, prod, plumb their contents and experiment with that content in order to tease out alternate solutions.

 

So perhaps wrestling with this challenge for a little bit will direct me to some good information about how teachers use classroom management techniques and other administrators have been able to clarify boundaries and create breakthroughs to correct challenging behavior.  I believe it will ultimately come down to finding a way to reinforce acceptable norms so that the worker understands what is healthy and acceptable behavior.  I have a book on how to create a nurturing home environment for step children, but one of the things they emphasize is creating shared expectations and a partnership among both parents, which in this case, I’d have to really work to create leverage before I gain that level of support.  Standard protocols for these approaches that I’d have to develop strategies for include:
A Sample Protocol for Resolving Challenging Behaviors
1. Maintain ongoing observation and documentation of every child.
2. In reflective supervision, review these questions (Wittmer and Petersen, 2006):
a. What is the child experiencing? What is the child’s perspective on the situation?
b. What, when, where, how, and with whom is the behavior occurring?
c. What is the child communicating that he wants or needs? What is
the purpose of the child’s behavior? What is the meaning of the child’s
behavior?
d. What do I want the child to do?
3. Meet with the family to deepen and share understanding.
4. Determine a consistent plan for intervention.
5. Continue observation and documentation to provide data for evaluating improvement and ensuring the consistency of the intervention.
6. Consult with a mental health professional if the child is not responding and the persistence, frequency, and duration of the behavior is not improving.
7. Determine whether further referral to community resources is necessary through discussion with family, the supervisor, and the mental health consultant.

 

So what’s the lesson from all of this?

For millennials: I’d be sure to keep in mind that when you are in the workplace that people aren’t going to want to invest in you if you build a reputation of being hard to manage or difficult to get along with.
For employers: Please make sure that your organization has a mechanism for mediation, or that you train your management staff and hold them accountable for their workers so that conflicts don’t arise from poorly articulated  boundaries.
If you’re suffering from this problem: Give yourself permission to lighten up when you can, but don’t take on too much guilt if you find yourself compulsively working to find a solution to the problem.  Just be sure to take care of yourself (diet, exercise, rest, play, etc.) and don’t be afraid to seek out help.

Friendfluence

1339360477_3860_good-choice-bad-choice-sign

I believe one of the hardest parts of my job is that because of my role, I have to be very careful about what activities I can engage in outside of work when fraternizing with our employees.  I am one of the only single people working in management, so unless I’m going to a community-wide event where they bring their kids, I don’t really have that many people in (my really small town) that I’m allowed to hang out with.  Consequently I’ve found myself going to church more, going on solitary hikes, etc. which are great.  But that also means that I don’t have a lot of people that I can confide in to help me troubleshoot some of the challenges that have inspired this blog.

 

Last month I finished reading the book Friendfluence by Carlin Flora which explored the science behind friendship and the impacts these connections have on our behavior and intrinsic motivators.  I became curious to explore the topic after reading Jim Rohn‘s quote:

‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’

online wanted to see if there was empirical evidence to support that, because if it was true, I was going to have to modify my zero fraternization policy so that I could spend more time with my workers who exhibit healthy behaviors and a positive work ethic.

 

I think it would help me focus less upon my troubled worker and expand my capacity to reinvest my mental and emotional resources in something constructive. Flora notes that improving the quality of your friendships (or in my case, the people that you spend time around) can:

  • make you smarter, ethical, attractive (given that you spend time around people who make you want to improve)
  • make you happier (friends, recreation & play have been instrumental in helping survivors of trauma overcome the scars of their experiences)
  • serve as a catalyst to hold you accountable for your efforts or make a commitment to strive for aspirations you may have otherwise ignored
  • make you healthier (physically, mentally, etc)
  • enhance romance (people who had friends outside of their marriage were statistically more likely to report happier marriages
  • and advance careers

Carlin notes that ambivalent friendships (or in my case ambivalent workplace interactions) can be detrimental to health, enable drifting to happen or create long term damage when bad friendships leave one or each party shell-shocked by betrayals, disappointments and demise.

She refers to a study conducted by researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad in which the author states,

“Because the ambivalent friends are unpredictable, the subjects probably had a heightened level of vigilance while with them, which could explain the blood pressure spike.

So perhaps I am right to expand my circle of support in the workplace.  Since I can’t seem to get it from management, my options are to continue to reinvest my efforts toward building up relationships I know will make a meaningful investment.

All I know is one thing’s for sure:

It isn’t worth it to waste your enthusiasm for life learning how to be good at something (or spend time with someone) that you don’t enjoy

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.