Of late, there has been much spoken and written about the shrill and antagonistic tone taken by politicians and the media in an effort to have their message heard and rise above the din of other noise and static inundating voters, viewers, subcribers, etc. Unfortunately, the typical “Man in the Street” has been so turned off by the vitriol, that the message and the messenger is viewed cynically and either avoided or tuned out. It is that same rush to attack and motivation to discount others that has infiltrated and permeated our business relationships as well.
In fact, it is hard to remain civil and well-mannered at work. There are competing pressures, tight deadlines, lack of resources available to meet demands, self-interests to protect (promotion opportunities, pursuit of plum assignments, and corner offices to secure, etc.). Each of these alone would be sufficient to cause people to compete; and in turn, turn less cordial toward each other. When more than one co-exists in a single environment (as it often does); it is enough to almost guarantee that people will be become territorial, protective, aggressive, etc.
While there may be times where it makes good sense to initiate internal competition in an effort to create a better outcome (Procter & Gamble has mastered doing that in pitting one brand against another, often in the same product category); it also runs the risk of causing people to focus less on striving to improve and more on hindering others from succeeding. Instead of it leading to everyone improving, it can sometimes lead to sabotage and strife internally.
What to do
If we agree that it is worth maintaining a level of civility and even in times of disagreement, to avoid inappropriate actions or comments, then the following reminders may be worth heeding to stave off the potential for increasing conflict when reaching a positive resolution is preferred.
1. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Even when there are potentially uncomfortable things that need to be communicated, there is no replacement for genuine and authentic communication that is borne of a desire to be productive and accurate in giving feedback.
2. Better to ask for, then to give advice — Offering unsolicted advice, telling others would they ought to do, or should stop doing will more often lead to resentment and a general distrust.
3. Walk a mile in their shoes – Rather than assume you know the motives or someone else’s intentions, resist jumping to conclusions. In its place, confirm, check with resources, ask directly, and even then – do not assume to know what someone else is thinking.
4. See shades of gray – While it is easy to paint someone with a set of beliefs and characteristics that seem consistent with one’s preconceived notions, remember that the other person is a complex set of traits, beliefs, and experiences. It is helpful to identify a posiitve characteristic about the other person and not ONLY see the negatives.
5. Ask and listen – Next time you come in contact with a colleague you have a negative opinion of, skipthe mindless pleasantries adn ask a GENUINE question and then STOP long enough to focus on the answer and truly listen. You may learn your assumptions about the other person were not completely accurate.
6. Show Appreciation – It is amazing how far a simple, “Thank-you” goes. It happens so infrequently, that when it occurs, it is meaningful.
7. Give credit – The best managers, and the most effective employees have learned that sharing praise or compliments with others is the surest way to receive more. Those that seek to claim the kudos for themselves quickly learn that they are rarely provided with compliments that are not self-provided!
8. Resist the blame game – Conversely, when things go wrong – as they will from time to time – avoid finger-pointing and assigning blame or determining culpability. Far better to work to improve the system or ensure that methods are improved to prevent it. Rehashing mistakes with the purpose of blaming someone does not further the purposes of the organization.
9. Be as good as your promises – if you commit to doing something, do it. If you find you are unable to fulfull it, let people know as early as you can, provide a rationale as to why it will not happen, but most importantly – offer a way to meet the need, and what you will do to ensure it does not occur again.
10. Treat a rumor like a tumor – no one volunteers to carry around a tumor, and similarly, one should not carry a rumor around without having it checked out by someone who knows for sure what it is and what to do about it. If a rumor is told to you – confirm it with the right people, those in the know, and resist the urge to work off of less than accurate information.
Following these ten simple, and straightforward hints will help restore some of the civility back into our work environments. And who knows, it may lead to more productivity, and greater synergies between employees. Don’t wait for kindness to come your way. Gandhi had it right: We must be the change we wish to see in the world.