In the last year, I have noticed an increased polarization in thinking. Employees are often judging others as either all good or all bad vs. an ability to see shades of grey. This is concerning because it suggests that people are viewed as either extremely flawed or flawless, neither of which is usually anywhere near accurate. This type of decision-making erodes:

  • Teamwork
  • The inclusion of a diversity of perspectives
  • A healthy and enjoyable work atmosphere.

All of these outcomes undermine the effectiveness of an organization. Coaching suggestions to shift this thinking are at the end of this blog.

Given the current #MeToo movement, I want to be clear that I am not talking about harassment or other illegal, immoral or unethical behavior. Rather, I am referencing making judgments about a person’s competency, value or worth based on a personal outlook or some behavior with which one disagrees. It seems there is an increased speed in which the baby is now thrown out with the bathwater.

An additional consequence also has negative implications on organizations. Especially for people who have low self-confidence and/or high self-criticality, feedback about one element of their work is sometimes received as an attack on their personal worth. Perhaps this is because they too would be making an “all or nothing” judgement on another person, and so they assume others will evaluate them similarly. I am trying to understand this situation better and would love to hear about your insights in the comment section.

No matter the cause or reasoning, this is an unhealthy trend for our organizations.

I see three attitudes as key solutions: gratitude, grace and learning.

An attitude of humility results when we are grateful for what we have been given (e.g., our gifts and talents, opportunities, possessions, health). This mindset admits that we aren’t solely responsible for all the good that happens to us. It enables us to see our dependence and appreciation for others. We are less likely to condemn when we are grateful.

An attitude characterized by grace suggests we will not expect others to be perfect, and will instead recognize the human being behind the action – their frailties, their challenges and struggles, those that we clearly see and those of which we are unaware. Being able to see and admit to others our mistakes is vital for building trust.

We also need to realize that neither errors nor contributions determine people’s value as human beings. Our value comes from being children of God. Seeing someone in that light makes all the difference in how we treat them. While He is sometimes unhappy with our actions or thoughts, He does “delight in us.” When I remember to see others in this light, it makes all the difference in my interface with them.

Recognizing that we don’t know everything and have much to learn also produces a humility and openness in which we discover that there is something to learn from everyone. Not everyone has to do things our way (as my mother-in-law says, “to each their own”). Even if we disagree with 70% of what someone says or does, that leaves 30% that we can learn from (and sometimes we can learn from the 70% too). This mind shift can produce gratitude for that gift of learning.
As leaders, if we cultivate these attitudes in ourselves and our employees, we can push back on a culture which seems to be increasingly less kind and more selfish.

Here are some simple questions to ask yourself each day as you encounter others:

  • What is something that I am grateful for in my work realm?
  • What might each person teach me?
  • Am I able to see each person as a human being with value for just being, not just a summation of his or her acts?
  • How might I demonstrate my gratitude today?
  • Is there somewhere I am allowing my dislike or disagreement with a comment, action or behavior to cloud my total evaluation of a person’s value?

Your challenge: Focus on continually asking yourself one of these questions this week. Each week, try a different focus.