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Self Monitoring: Give It a Try

Picture this. You are the most introverted person on your team. Two of your peers are extroverted, bordering on obnoxious. The others fall somewhere in the middle. There is a heated discussion about a new product launch. In the midst of the debate, Thing One turns to Thing Two and says, “Those overly cautious, shy, never speak up types in finance just don’t get it. If we didn’t poke them every now and then you’d never know if they were even alive.”

True story. As the consultant in the room I intervened and shut down the stereotypes and name calling. But I must admit I was appalled…initially. Until I thought about it some more and saw examples all around me. The uncensored, rude, disrespectful and uncivil discourse that takes place in the work place may not be quite as coarse as what we see in the public forum on our nightly news but it is not far behind. After all the inclusion and harassment training and company policies you would think that employees understood the importance of treating each other with dignity. But I fear that too many think that training was corporate bullshit and, in order to keep their jobs, they are just sneakier about trashing others.

Here is a quaint idea. How about we all start to manage our ids a bit so we can treat each other with some basic human decency. When did we decide it was fine to express our every thought without consideration for the impact on others?

Sure, the internet and social media has unleashed a torrent of awfulness and some of that spills over into our work lives. That may have created a social milieu of incivility but I don’t think that is the whole answer. In no particular order, here are some of my observations of corporate behavior that fuel this “say anything” habit.

  • Transparency, better flow of information and open communication are misunderstood. The push for more frequent and honest dialogue from the C suite has taken an odd turn. While executives work harder at trying to do just that, employees insist on receiving more and more information. They claim they don’t want a filter and should be privy to tightly held plans as if they were sitting in the board room themselves. When executives reveal staffing plans or product decisions or strategy shifts employees feel betrayed that they didn’t know sooner or weren’t consulted. I recall many occasions when I was an executive and staff would come into my office to rant about “how dare we blindside” them. No amount of “it would have been inappropriate” cooled their jets. Staff now feel entitled to be in on everything and anything short of that (which is the general rule) is cause for indignation. They express this slight by bad mouthing leaders with little regard for the consequences.
  • Internal competition between employees is brutal. This is not new, just part of this bigger picture. With flatter organizations and fewer top level positions available people shout and shove in hopes of getting one of the rare slots. Meetings often devolve into screaming matches between the alphas in the room, back room backstabbing is common and “everyone for themselves” is understood. Empathy, compassion, teamwork, principled actions…out the door.
  • Home office staff create in and out groups. With loads of employees on the road or working remotely, the number of bodies in the headquarters is a small subset. Remote workers don’t engage in much riff-raff because they are isolated and have a different vantage point. Those in the office form cliques and reinforce their loyalty to each other by creating an us vs. them dynamic. “Those sales folks in the field don’t have a clue! Don’t they know how to complete their friggin’ reports?” Then when everyone gathers at HQ for a big meeting it feels like high school lunch tables all over again.
  • Emails leave too much room for venting and miscommunication. We have stopped picking up phones to talk to each other so we are now dependent on our written words to do the job. The knowledge that we are leaving a paper trail has created new social norms. There are those who write so briefly that you get the headline with no details. The sender doesn’t get nailed for something and the receiver is left in the dark or free to make up their own meaning. Others write long, detailed epistles to cover every single eventuality or objection. They feel the documentation will protect them from future prosecution. Still others behave like an internet troll blasting away in ALL CAPS. These (twisted) people believe their paper trail will be THE evidence that “I told you so” when disaster strikes later. Emails are such a blank slate and we can pour into them our lack of self awareness, snark, disrespect and CYA behavior.
  • Gossip, gossip, gossip. Again, nothing new here. Small groups of people behind closed doors talking trash about others. But a couple things have changed. For one, the tone is nastier. There is some notion that it is okay and harmless to take down your colleagues. Secondly, gossip is often false or a twisted truth but if those stories seep out then real HR investigations sometimes ensue. This is the ultimate slam of a colleague that often proves to be unsubstantiated but the stain of suspicion lingers on. And last, gossip fuels our basest selves. It does not serve any conceivable good. It tears at the fabric of an organization and destroys reputations. To gossip is human but to damage is cruel.

As a psychologist I want to remind you that the id is the natural state of a child who operates on instinct, immediate needs, wishful and willful desires and has no relationship to reality. The id is our most primitive and infantile self that we learn to control as we develop. The ego comes along to reason and make decisions about actual reality. The ego knows the difference between right and wrong and tries to steer the id in the right direction. The super ego assimilates cultural norms from the world and works hard to manage the id’s capricious nature. In other words, there are two parts of our conscious and unconscious functioning that work over time to get the id to behave and act like a grown up who actually cares about someone other than self.

Feeling a compulsion to be boldly blunt or not to consider others’ feelings or stomp your feet is not virtuous or admirable. It is childish and self centered. As we mature (like past the age of 20!) we are supposed to function on all levels where the thoughts and feelings of others matter to us and reality as it is overrides our fantasies.

You will feel better about yourself, receive more respect from your co-workers and make valuable contributions to your company if you put your id in the box and bring it out to play at home. Friends don’t let friends bring their ids to work!


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