On Team Building and the Concept of the Other

All gender words are indicative and are used for each of writing, not due to specification of a particular gender

There is a penchant we have in relationships: at work, and personally. That is to ‘punish’ the Other. When he does something wrong, something unpredictable, or when he didn’t read her mind.

I’ve had my boss pull me up for not communicating enough when he explicitly asked me to reduce communication with him. I’ve had friends want to punish me. Case in point: I offered a friend something, she said no, then got upset that I didn’t do it.

The purpose of punishing behavior is to bring the person to his or her knees, to show him the error of his ways. And it works. For a while. This punitive approach however, is not without its side effects. It wears a person down, shows him that you are malicious, and willing to wantonly hurt him. For the man who truly cares, and hurt his friend accidentally or out of ignorance, such punishment can come off as extreme, and erodes love and respect. It is most decidedly hurtful, and does not help the situation; rather, leaves a searing brand of hurt that glows a warning around that same situation again.Upset

In the United States, men and women are taught to make explicit their assumptions and communicate expectations to others. Of course, expectations you didn’t know you had would pop up with devastating results. In that case, we are taught to express our expectations as a request. ‘I know you are doing your best here, and when you said/ did x, it was perhaps not the best to achieve certain results. Would you not do it/ do it differently please?’

In such a request, the partner feels respected, and her intent is not questioned. Trust is recognized and built upon.

Conversely, in an environment where men aren’t exactly taught to communicate with honesty and validate the feelings of the person in front of them, establishing the need to change behavior can be challenging.

Similarly, at jobs, the boss can assume mal-intent on part of the employee. There is a line of war drawn, there is a us-vs.-them. Employees are stupid, bosses think. Bosses are dumb, employees think, and out goes the team building classes the company paid for. In an atmosphere of differing perspectives, trust is the castle whose foundation lies in the bricks of communication, and the mortar of one’s assumptions. Also known as biases. Women don’t work hard. Men are sexist pigs. All bosses are domineering; you can’t trust them. You can’t trust anyone.

In both cases, the presumption is that hurting the other does not hurt oneself. Or the relationship. Or the ability to work effectively in a culture of respect and trust.

We all make mistakes. We all live in bubbles of ignorance where we just can’t see what the other person is saying. Sometimes it takes explaining once. I have explained concepts to direct staff under me five times, in five different ways, with her laughing in my face that I had it all wrong. It might not be easy, it might not work the first time, but punitive actions are not the solution to reach for.

The best teams are built where each person in aware of the biases s/he brings, and believe me, we all have them. A recent conversation with a Human Resources lead in a major financier revealed that he was aware of clique-ish behavior among the males in his firm where they’d band together, point to their phones, and giggle like school boys, instantly alienating the women in the department. He put a stop to that since he didn’t me ‘me-vs.-the Other’ lines in his office.

A punitive approach to ignorance is effective in the short term, the problem is, it gets old. Fast. The person receiving the punishment will quickly become inured to harsh behavior as ‘payback’, and will stop caring. The employee will stop bringing his best ideas to the firm, and will start daydreaming about other jobs where he’s respected. I don’t have to elaborate the cost of Turnover rates to a firm, and the reputation it builds along the grapevine.

Take the long way. Explain in caring, respectful ways. The person in front of you wants to please you. Enable them.

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