If you want your workplace culture to deteriorate in a hurry, make sure that your colleagues hold the following three beliefs near and dear to their hearts:
1. “We’re Like a Family Here”: This is the sentence I hear most often when I facilitate training or consult to organizations that suffer widespread incivility or even harassment. At the heart of this 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: Families are deeply flawed entities. They are not idyllic structures imbued with nothing but love and support. In real life, families often cause their members intense pain. And in those work environments that are fraught with incivility (or worse), people use the family analogy as window dressing that permits them to treat each other in destructive ways. The ‘family’ notion stops accountability at the door.
My recommendation: in the workplace, let’s keep the worthy parts of ‘family’ (connection, support, informality) and decisively weed out the counterproductive parts.
2. “I Know Which Lines I Shouldn’t Cross Because I Know My Colleagues’ Sensitivities”. This belief allows people to say and do things that qualify as incivility or even harassment (surprise! those jokes about Polish people might not be acceptable under your harassment policy).
Thinking that you know your colleagues’ sensitivities is an Illusion. At best, you know very little about your fellow coworkers – even those that you’ve worked with for many years.
3. “We Have the Right to Vent”: people use this belief to justify uncensored badmouthing of colleagues and managers behind their unsuspecting backs. Many folks (managers too!) tell me that venting is a legitimate way for them to ‘release steam’.
Here’s my response: we are human beings and not machines that require the release of steam in order to operate properly. In the workplace, if you experience frustration and stress related to a colleague’s behaviour, as an adult and as a professional it is incumbent upon you to find solutions to your problem that do not involve spreading incivility and hurtful gossip. Need to vent? Do so at home with your husband, dog or friend. Or call your company EAP for constructive help.
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. (And if you need help with debunking these beliefs or creating a more respectful workplace, we’re always one click away).
And speaking of families: with all their quirkiness and dysfunctions, families can be an absolutely wonderful thing…. Here’s my 93-year-old aunt Beccy, a magnificent trailblazer in her time, and me, sharing a moment in Tel Aviv, January 2013.