By Francie Dalton
Janet, a senior executive, had grumbled bitterly and at length about
the inaccessibility and coldness of her CEO toward staff, business
consultant Laura asked Janet if she had ever presented the boss with
options for how he might better manage his image. For example,
Laura inquired, had Janet developed a staff rotation matrix for
monthly breakfasts/lunches with him; monthly or quarterly meetings
with each department; etc. “No”, said Janet; “I would never
suggest such a thing to him.”
asked Laura, “you’re observing that he has an image/behavior issue,
you acknowledge that you and others are aggravated by it, you know
of steps he could take to improve, and yet you’ve not communicated
these to him. Why is that?”
Janet huffed. “He knows what he’s like. He knows how he comes
off. If he cared, he wouldn’t behave that way. I’m certainly not
going to discuss his behavior with him!”
know for sure that he is aware of how he is perceived?” asked
confronting him about his current behavior, could you offer
suggestions on how he might engage with staff?” Laura asked; “Or
might you suggest a cultural survey to capture persuasive data?”
have the authority”, said Janet, “to make suggestions.”
have to have authority to make suggestions?” Laura asked,
here you do!” Janet replied.
you ever made a suggestion to him before?” Laura asked.
suggested 3 ideas for our holiday party and he rejected all of them”
said Laura. “ So you’re thinking that because he didn’t accept
those particular suggestions, he won’t accept any suggestions
“Well…yeah!” replied Janet. “And even if that’s not so, it’s not my
job to manage his image.”
expressed frustration several times that you’re not included in
strategic planning, and that your role doesn’t get the esteem shown
to other high level professionals” observed Laura. “Is it possible
that such esteem accrues only to those who step up and demonstrate a
willingness to do the hard things?”
OK,” said Janet. “Look - I have to hang up now.”
in this brief conversation are no less than 5 aspects of poisonous
passivity that can derail individual success, subvert group
effectiveness, and exacerbate undesirable turnover.
Poison #1: Assumption of Ill Intent: You offended someone and
didn’t even realize it. Your most recent decision was in direct
opposition to a previous decision about which you had completely
forgotten. You completed a negotiation with a third party without
knowing that it would have an adverse affect on another department.
us are willing to concede that we may have blind spots regarding our
own behavior. When we’re surprised to learn how others see us, we
expect forgiveness to immediately follow our statement of “no
intent”. We aren’t so quick, however, to view the behavior of
others as benign. Instead, we assume others are fully aware of
their impacts, and that their behaviors are deliberate.
Poison #2: Faulty Logic: Because you made a mistake with
assignment “A”, you should never again be given assignment “A”.
Because you had one really bad day, it’s appropriate for you to ever
after carry the label of “difficult employee”. Because you didn’t
realize a particular VIP was sensitive about a specific issue, you
clearly have zero interpersonal skills. If you’d rail at these, why
apply such faulty logic to others?
absurd to believe that because the boss approves one suggestion,
s/he will approve all suggestions. It is equally absurd to believe
that because the boss disapproves one suggestion, s/he will
disapprove all suggestions.
Poison #3: Negative Fantasies: Even when we have absolutely no
personal history at all with an individual, we can be amazingly
resolute in our predictions about what they would do if.
doesn’t require more than a question or two to reveal that such
predictions are based on gossip or innuendo, and lack any specific
experiential grounding. However, as tools to justify inaction or to
mask an unwillingness to take initiative, negative fantasies are
almost unbeatable. In the hands of spin-masters, negative fantasies
can masquerade compellingly as valid reasons to do nothing, when in
fact they’re just excuses for doing nothing.
Poison #4: Blame Orientation: It’s so much easier to blame
others for something that did or didn’t happen than to take
constructive action ourselves. Lots of willing listeners will be
attracted to conversations about what’s wrong. And there’s lots of
empathy for those who make a convincing case for having been
victimized. Solution oriented conversations, though, attract fewer
listeners, in part because they usually require us to take on new or
different work. The soothing balm of blaming others numbs innovative
thinking, and desensitizes us to the need for initiating change.
Poison #5: Abdication of Personal Responsibility: Although more
egregious at the senior levels, deliberate disengagement is the
essence of shared culpability, and isn’t justified at any
due to an oblivious lack of introspection or the intentional
avoidance of accountability, abdication is an active choice – not a
passive one. Disavowing personal responsibility for helping to
craft or implement solutions makes one, at best, part of the
problem, and at worst, irrelevant.
Attempting to mitigate detachment by citing “low level status” or
claiming “it’s not my job” may indeed insulate us and confer
impunity, but it can also erode the assignment of high potential
status. Even if only one of these poisons has been dispersed in your
organization, it’s sufficient to permeate your culture with the
suboptimal performance of an “us vs. them” mentality.
you need a preventive vaccine or a curative antidote, the medicine
is the same: dispense this article so that it’s easy for everyone
to recognize poisonous passivity as the menacing hazard that it
is. Infuse your culture with the message that those who aren’t
willing to act have lost their right to complain.
Read other articles and learn more
about Francie Dalton.
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