Good girl gone bad?

goodandbad

People are good or they are bad. Is it really so simple? People throw judgments like these around every day, reaching a decision based upon the information they have to hand at that point.

You have a bad run at work, all of a sudden you’re a bad worker. You let down a loved one, all of a sudden you’re a bad person. Sometimes it surprises me how few people are willing to stop, think and perhaps ask more questions about a situation before reaching a judgment. I liken this to going to the gym – it can take you months (perhaps even years!) to build up your fitness levels and just days or weeks for it to disappear. Is it the same when it comes to our characters?

Before I go further, it’s worth saying that I know we as humans are programmed to make judgments, if we did not then decision making would be nigh on impossible. But something I’ve noticed recently is that the weighting given to a person’s ‘good’ behaviours and ‘bad’ behaviours seems off – it strikes me that to be ‘good’ you have to work bloody hard but to be considered ‘bad’ it can take just one or two actions. If this were illustrated in pictorial form it would look like a set of scales with one side having a huge pile and the other just a smattering…but the scales tip in favour of the lighter side.

I suppose all of this could just be put down to differences in perspective. For example, I know lots of people really value consistency and a meeting of expectations so when you do something(s) that goes against this, it results in feelings of disappointment and frustration. My own perspective is slightly different…I have always found the dark and light in people fascinating – it is part of what makes them beautiful. When someone is their imperfect self, the more real and raw they are being. It isn’t to say they can go around being awful, disrespectful or anything like that but rather I can forgive a relatively high degree of undesirable behaviour because I believe that it indicates something deeper is going on. Perhaps it’s my psychologist’s mind at play 😉 But… I am yet to find many people who will allow me the same understanding. How many people do you know who would still be standing there even in your darkest moments when you are not yourself? And not just standing there but holding your hand and telling you how okay it is to be imperfect.

Sometimes a few tough times come along and they really shake you one after the other, to the point where you can question who you are, what you stand for and why you bother trying so hard. When these things happen, of course you won’t be the same person for a while. But does that mean that you’ve somehow fallen from grace because you’re being selfish, moaning a bit or being sad? Are you no longer valuable for all the times you were at your best? Are you less strong because you can’t always find the strength to put on a brave face? And the big one that kept coming up…Are you destined to be alone because you can’t always project the people pleasing version of yourself?

These are all questions that run through the mind when those around you appear not to really ‘get’ it and / or don’t want to. I am thankful to say that for me personally, I’m coming through the other side of some dark times but I wanted to write this blog anyway to pose some questions that I think we can all reflect on a little more in a society where mental health issues are on the rise: am I being fair in my judgement of this person that I care about? Am I looking at the whole picture of who they are or just reacting to this snapshot of a time when they are acting in a hurtful way? How can I gather more information about what’s going on before I react? These questions I believe can help us to be better and more compassionate managers, friends, partners and people.

Before I finish up with the usual key reflections, I do want to emphasise that by trying to take a more forgiving stance on ‘bad’ behaviour I am not excusing sustained and repetitive hurtful interactions or cases where you have to sacrifice your own well-being long term to take account of the bad sides of someone you care about. Rather, this blog is about those people where if you were to take a step back and weigh up of the time you’ve known them, the main of it has been positive and good but there have been some times recently where this has taken a hit or something has happened that shocked or saddened you about them. We all have the right to be respected and treated well but sometimes it just isn’t possible for people to be the person we want them to be 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives.

So, in reflecting on all of this here’s three things I personally have learned:

  1. Behaviours are usually indicative of something deeper – ask more questions. More often than not, we judge behaviours because these are the tangible things that are obvious to us. Someone behaves in a certain way therefore it must mean XY or Z. But in many situations people behave in a particular way because they can’t or don’t want to verbalise whatever is going on in their head. Taking someone to one side and reflecting back in a kind way what you’ve seen and asking whether there’s anything they want to talk about could be all it takes to fully understand the situation.
  1. Be honest but be kind. Most people welcome some honesty from those they care about but the way in which it’s delivered is absolutely key. Generally people push back and / or defend against honesty delivered in a cruel or uncaring way but will react better to honesty they perceive to come from a place of caring and support.
  1. Take a step back, if you must judge someone then do it fairly. Have you got all the information you need in order to make the judgement you’ve made? We very often have a tendency to judge first and then seek out information to back it up – to affirm that we’re right. Try to fight against the natural inclination and approach it the other way around – gather more information through questioning and then make your judgement about what’s going on.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t profess to get it right all of the time and I’m well aware of how difficult it is to press ‘pause’ and gather information when you’ve been hurt, let down or disappointed by someone. But the conclusion I’ve drawn is that if it leads to the end result of a salvaged professional or personal relationship, it is well worth trying.

Plenty of people will say that they appreciate you for all of your sides – good, bad and ugly – because they know it’s the right thing to say. But how many remain by your side when you really go through something deep, dark and soul shattering? That is the true test of strength in a relationship and if you are lucky enough to find that kind of a friend, lover or colleague then hold onto them for dear life 🙂

“The imperfections of a person, their frailties, their faults, are just as important as their virtues. You can’t separate them. They’re wedded.” Henry Miller

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Flourish or fail?

flourish

Working in the field that I do, an analogy has often been used comparing the success and development of people to the growth of a plant or tree  (yes, yes I know it sounds a bit ‘hippy’ but stay with me 🙂 ). That is to say, within certain conditions we will thrive and flourish and in others we shrivel up and shrink away. The idea of ‘greenhouse organisations’ in which staff are provided with the right conditions for growth, development and expansion is not a new one but I am reminded recently of how rarely our leaders and managers try to understand our individual level ‘greenhouse conditions’. The tragedy that subsequently results, is the shrinking and confinement of otherwise excellent staff.

As ever, I’ll start with a little context and perhaps a personal anecdote or two. Usually I choose to write about topics outside of a work environment but as I started thinking about this, it struck me that ‘greenhouse conditions’ and ‘nurturers’ are just as relevant to our personal lives as they are to work. We are talking about understanding our conditions for success and the people who support and encourage that.

I have been fortunate in my life (or unfortunate depending upon how you look at it!) to experience a very wide range of people, personalities and styles – most of them incredibly positive and inspiring but a fair few I have to admit unfortunately fall into the ‘soul shrinking’ category. As my experiences grow and I talk more and more with people of similar-ish life circumstances, ambition and outlooks it is becoming less and less the case that I hear somebody say ‘I love my job. My team are great, the work is interesting and fulfilling and my manager is fantastic. I feel valued and recognised for my contributions and I can see myself staying here for a long time. Better still, I look up to and admire our leadership and I’d like to aspire to be like that some day”.

Some people may look at that statement and say “huh? that’s idealistic thinking right there – no job is like that” but I can tell you, I have been lucky enough to live that job and thrive in that environment – it does exist! Perhaps I am now ‘spoiled’ forever more as a result 😉 One of the main issues is, we’ve all become accustomed to just ‘putting up with’ the quite frankly mediocre (and in some cases toxic) environments we find ourselves in – in many cases even thinking ‘perhaps it’s my own fault, I expect too much’. So what (in my humble opinion) is at the heart of this outbreak of unfulfilled, down-trodden, unheard staff? Bad management and bad leadership. And linked to this, an idea I am calling the ‘enemy within’ for many organisations of today. That is, a glut of bad managers and leaders who are poisoning the organisations from the inside out and bringing down many bright, passionate staff with them.

One of many issues with the ‘enemy within’ is that people are unaware it’s there and / or are unwilling to accept it’s existence. Bad managers and leaders are allowed to crush and shrink their staff like the proverbial plant shoved into a dark corner. This can be for a number of reasons – it might be because those people are good at ‘politic-ing’ and maneuvering away from scrutiny or that the organisation doesn’t care enough to honestly reflect in on and challenge itself. The most common thing I’ve heard (and seen) a lot of is the genuine belief of some leaders and managers that they are great at what they do, but the reality is a far cry from their perception.

This situation I think raises so many questions for the modern day workplace (and could be extended out to our personal lives too) about how we understand our people, value them and ensure the very best performance that comes from the heart.

I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) tell others what to do, as I am far from perfect and have much still to learn. But as usual I will share my thoughts on what works – as a manager and leader and as someone who has been managed and led. These are the killer questions I ask of myself:

  1. Have you sat down in a relaxed environment and asked your people about themselves, their interests and ambitions? This sounds basic and common sense but I believe this is where many managers and leaders are going wrong – they haven’t really invested time in getting to know their people so how can they genuinely care for and understand them.
  2. How clear are your expectations? Do your people know what you expect of them in terms of delivering specific things and the kinds of behaviours you would hope to see? This is another important thing for me, as a manager or leader there is no getting away from the fact that you will have expectations of your people – for me I think it’s about clearly articulating these but then allowing people the space to decide for themselves about the approach they take to meeting them. Goal and objective setting together is a great way to understand each others’ expectations and aims.
  3. Have you developed trust and openess with your people? This doesn’t just happen because you say it does. Actions speak louder than words so how do you really show people that you are to be trusted and that you truly welcome honesty.
  4. Do you regularly ask for feedback with a genuinely open approach? Are you prepared to hear the ‘bad’ things as well as the good? Nobody is perfect and hardly anyone gets things right first time. When someone is new to your team (or wider life) how do you find out how you’re doing and whether you’re hitting the right note? It’s by asking regularly and being prepared to listen to ways in which you can do better.
  5. Have you spent time reflecting on what things might feel like / be like for that person? Empathy is a hugely important part of connecting with someone, so being able to think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes goes a long way to helping them to feel understood and supported.

I know much of the above sounds simple and common place but having recently seen too many fantastic, intelligent and ambitious people be adversely affected by bad managers and leaders it struck me that perhaps more sharing of experiences and ideas wouldn’t go amiss. More challenge aimed at organisations to really assess whether they are good at leadership and managing their people.

So in finishing, here is my question to everyone out there…What will be your choice for 2016 and beyond? Do you choose to support people to flourish and grow or will you knowingly or unknowingly fail them, leaving them to shrivel in a world of disengagement and frustration? Will you choose to help your people to thrive and innovate or are you going to thwart ambition and change in favour of comfort and control?

An organisation is only ever as good and successful as the people working there and in investing time, effort and care in your people (much as that may require a cost to you in the short term) you will be successful beyond your greatest dreams.

“Success is a team sport. It requires dedication, inspiration, and passion; and one can never get that without cultivating the culture of trust, mutual respect, and empowerment.” Forbes