Opinions expressed by Contractor the contributors are theirs.
Why do we give grace to friends and family when they make a callous remark, get aggressive, or just have a bad day, but we no longer give the same grace to co-workers for the same minor infractions? In an era when stress at work is at an all time high, with employees citing an inability to create boundaries or disconnect from their jobs, you would think we would all feel more empathy for each other.
Instead, there has been an insidious increase in the signage of virtue in the workplace, displayed in zero tolerance policies for any interaction not considered ‘likable’. It is cancel culture on a whole new level, fueling an epidemic that is likely to erode, rather than unifying our teams.
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Why is there no tolerance for being a fool?
Let me be the first to admit that I am sometimes strong. I can be frank, direct and critical. (Admit that’s the first step to recovery, right?)
We can probably all agree that being a jerk isn’t something we should celebrate in the workplace. But regardless of the company’s ubiquitous value statements about mutual respect, valuing relationships, doing the right thing or being a good person, when we reject something less than perfect. social, have we gone too far?
As a human resources manager, I see a potentially destructive cultural quality emerging. Instead of company values defining what we want and seek, they are sometimes used as blunt instruments to weed out those who don’t exactly match the ‘norm’, who have the audacity to speak up, or who sometimes get frustrated and vent or have a jerk-i-ness moment. In its worst form, this type of cancellation culture can be used to destroy careers, simply by accusing an employee of not living up to company values.
Corporate culture is not a question of homogeneity. Successful, vibrant and engaging cultures give way to different personalities and behaviors. Isn’t that the very definition of diversity and inclusion we all talk about?
Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about extreme outliers that have no place at work (or anywhere), like unethical, dangerous, or inappropriate behavior. These are contrary to a healthy organization and should be given zero tolerance. But some of the very channels or approaches intended to deal with truly unacceptable actions are now used to shame or target coworkers who are just different and, yes, sometimes boring or vocal.
Rather than dealing with interpersonal conflict like adults should, these basic human issues have increasingly traced back to senior management or even whistleblower hotlines as the default, sometimes with very bad intentions behind it. ‘climbing.
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Get in touch with your gut strength
None of us are immune to discovering that what we intended to communicate did not quite turn out as we had hoped. This discovery is so much more painful when it is too late. And it’s excruciating to have to find out through a third party, like the boss. What if we just acted like the adults that we are and had a conversation with the person who made the misstep?
I think it is incumbent on all of us in these circumstances to consider: Is it possible that I misinterpreted what was said or that I took it personally when it was not conveyed this way? What if I try communication in this situation? Is it possible that something else is happening? Or, God forbid – could I give this person feedback? If you take this route, you might even find that the result is a meeting of the spirits that makes the two of you better members of the team.
The reality is, it’s easier not to. And when there is a real intention to harm, then there is no desire to make it right. Corporate gossip, where we sit next to a like-minded colleague and agree on our grievances, is just too easy. This is great – why do something different? And why speak directly to someone when you can lodge a complaint with their manager or some other executive, or share your perception with other people and include them in your campaign?
Small conflicts and everyday grievances are part of the infrastructure of any business, no matter how unpleasant; gossip and bad faith efforts to resolve conflicts through administrative retaliation can be more toxic and contagious than we realize.
Related: A Few Disgruntled Employees Can Destroy Your Company’s Culture
Does the punishment match the crime?
To subdue someone else’s career because your feelings have been hurt is a pretty extreme reaction. Instead of making their mistakes fly on a flag pole, come to their side and help them improve. It’s funny how these corporate values work both ways. Are you to be a good person or to do good things when you are not giving grace to someone else? How noble are these actions really?
If we want to live in a world where others are responsible, let’s keep ourselves responsible first.
Don’t lose your humanity – conversation is the cure.