“At the start of my leadership engagements, I rarely, if ever, enter a company and work with large groups of employees. I always start in one specific area or with one specific leader. So initially, I am isolated from the rest of the organization. That said, I always hear about the value added individuals in other parts of the company long before I actually meet them…” —From the book: Many Parts, One Body Many Parts, One Body, pg. 54.
No matter what type of trade or work environment with which you are affiliated, conflict in the workplace—in one form or another—is inevitable. For example, it is not uncommon to see problems arise because of personality differences between peers, complications in business flow, or disagreements around decisions and direction. Sometimes it’s marked by a decline in an employee’s sentiment, for whatever reason, that can compromise your ability to effectively carry out job duties and expectations. In any case, the key is to make sure that you, yourself, are not perceived as the cause of the workplace problems.
What does being part of the problem really mean?
- Being perceived as a part of the problem means any situation where you think or act one way and the majority of people thinks or acts the other way.
To be clear, that doesn’t necessarily make the majority right. At the end of the day however, who is right or wrong becomes a mute point. The important factor here is that once “majority rules,” you are either being perceived as being part of the solution or part of the problem, all depending on what your stance happens to be at the time.
The fact is, we always need to be cognizant of whether what we are doing is in alignment with team direction, our working relationships, and the organization’s larger vision and goals. Regardless of how much of an expert we are or how tenured we might be in the company, it only takes a millisecond to do something that instantly puts us on an organization’s naughty list.
To be clear, speaking your mind and standing up for what you believe in is important and should be done. You must be aware, however, of your boundaries and have a clear understanding of when to “let go” and when you can push back. Once the majority decision is made, it is critical to get on board if you are to be perceived as a team player.
How do I know if people might be viewing me as being part of the problem? Here are some signs at the…
- Organizational Level: The organization seems to be moving one direction and you are still moving in the other. What’s the risk here? You can potentially be viewed as one who creates bottlenecks versus being part of the solution. That might be OK in debates or legal battles, but in business, continued resistance to company direction is not sustainable. Organizational priorities will take precedent over all other decisions—whether we like it or not. It’s up to us if we want to be on that bus or not.
- Team and Peer Level: People are avoiding you, ignoring you or going around you instead of trying to work with you. If this is happening, you can be assured that you are being perceived in a negative light. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are incorrect in your point of view or your stance on an issue. It simply means that whether or not you are correct and have a good point, there is something in how you are communicating or coming across that is shutting people down.
- Leadership Level: You feel like a captain with no crew.
Sometimes it seems as if we have lost all the respect and trust we had from our reports. In some cases, maybe we never had it. Regardless, leaders who can’t seem to positively impact and guide their direct reports soon become viewed as being part of the problem. There is no ONE perfect leader and it is impossible to please everyone. That’s not the point. But at the very least, good leaders should strive to score at least average employee satisfaction ratings when it comes to their overall leadership.
The good news is all of the above scenarios are all reparable!
The prerequisite, however, is a willingness to do the work necessary to correct the perception.
If I am being perceived as part of the problem, how do I become part of the solution at the..?
- Organizational Level: Move in the company’s direction and get on the bus. Of course it’s easier said than done, especially if you don’t whole-heartedly agree with the decision. But continually resisting doesn’t benefit anyone. Rather, it impedes progress. Worse case, maybe it turns out to be the wrong path after all. At the very least, everyone owns it and adjusts accordingly. Best case, maybe it’s the best decision the company has ever made. In this case, receive all the praise accordingly as well.
- Team and Peer Level: Apologize for your wrongs and make things right. This take courage I know, but believe it or not people naturally like to forgive and forget. The upside gained on the trust and respect front far outweigh the perceived risk in taking this action. That said, it is important you back up what you say with the positive steps in the right direction immediately afterwards and sustain it.
- Leadership Level: Get direct feedback from your employees, allow them to speak and even vent, and really listen to them. Your employees are extremely brilliant and smart people. They deserve to have strong leadership and guidance. That said, they bleed just like you do. They also know you aren’t perfect when it comes to leadership. You must also realize they aren’t necessarily perfect employees. Admit to your shortcomings as a leader, calibrate, find balance and do what great leaders do…ask for help and demonstrate through your actions that you really listened to them.
- If you are in the part of the solution camp, reach out to one of your fellow employees who might be in the other camp and help out where you can. Realize they ultimately need to take the actual steps themselves, but be respectful, genuine and sincere in your approach. You might be pleasantly surprised.
- If you are in the part of the problem camp, the first thing to do is take time to reflect and really weigh the costs of maintaining your position. What are the benefits to your stance? What are the downsides? Ultimately it will boil down to a decision on your part and whether or not there are enough benefits to warrant taking some steps in the right direction. Until this happens, true sustainable change won’t realistically happen. If you do truly decide to move forward in a solution-like direction, the upside could be tremendous.