If you want your workplace culture to deteriorate in a hurry, make sure that people hold the following three beliefs near and dear to their hearts:
- “We’re Like a Family Here”: At the heart of the we’re-like-a-family-here belief lies the notion that the closeness and caring that characterize family life allow members of the workplace family to cross colleagues’ personal boundaries without being hurtful or inappropriate.
Well, here’s a thought: Most if not all families are flawed entities. They are not idyllic structures imbued with nothing but love and support. Some families can cause their members intense pain. And in those work environments that are fraught with incivility (or harassment, or bullying), people use the family analogy as window dressing that permits them to treat each other rudely, sarcastically or in otherwise destructive ways. The family notion stops accountability at the door.
My recommendation: In the workplace, keep the worthy parts of family—such as connection, support, informality—and decisively weed out the counterproductive parts.
- “I Know Which Lines I Shouldn’t Cross Because I Know My Colleagues’ Sensitivities”. People often claim that they know their colleagues’ sensitivities and therefore they are able to decipher which lines not to cross. The truth is that this belief is used to allow people to say and do things that are offensive, uncivil and sometimes outright prejudiced. In short, it enables bad behavior that can be classified as workplace incivility.
And by the way, thinking that you know your colleagues’ sensitivities is an illusion. In fact, when it comes right down to it, one knows very little about one’s fellow coworkers, even those whom you’ve worked with for many years.
- “We Have the Right to Vent”: In some workplaces, people hold onto their right to vent as if it were one of the Ten Commandments. They use it to justify uncensored bad-mouthing of colleagues and managers behind their unsuspecting backs. They claim that venting is a legitimate way to release steam. Or they explain their behaviour by saying that there’s a lot of stress in the workplace, and when a colleague does something frustrating or upsetting, the best way to handle it is by going to another colleague (or several, why not?) to express their authentic frustration. They feel that doing so has a cleansing effect that enables them to return to their work relieved and relaxed.
Here’s my take on this belief: We are not machines that require the release of steam to operate properly. We are living organisms, and our actions can cause much distress to fellow living organisms. In the workplace, if a person is frustrated with a colleague, it is incumbent upon them as an adult and as a professional to handle the issue and those feelings in ways that do not involve spreading incivility and hurtful gossip. Need to vent? The place to do it is at home with your husband, dog or friend, or by tapping into professional resources, such as the employee assistance program, professional counseling or stress management programs.
Sometimes damaging beliefs creep up on us without us noticing. The good news is that we humans have the unique capacity to examine these beliefs and replace them with more helpful ones.
This article was reprinted with permission from the author.
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Sharone Bar-David is author of Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility and president of Bar-David Consulting, a company specializing in creating respectful work environments and offering solutions for turning around the behavior of abrasive leaders. She is the creator of the Respect-on-the-Go toolkits and Trust Your Canary Team Civility Booster program. Over the past 24 years, Sharone has worked within a wide range of industries through training sessions, consulting, coaching and keynote speeches. With a background as a lawyer and social worker, Sharone’s ideas are featured often in the general media
. She is known for her dynamic style and ability to create ah-ha moments for those with whom she works.