No, this isn’t an article about expletives in the workplace. Frankly, those are much more tolerable than the words that I am addressing today. Expletives might be offensive and create a less than pleasant work environment for some but it is rare that they do any long term harm or destroy significant value.
The language I am talking about is much more insidious. It is the use of: your, my, I, you & mine in certain situations. It is also the lack of: we & our.
Maybe it is the political divide in our country or perhaps just the allocation of my time across my client base but I have noticed this more than usual as of late. Used the wrong way, these simple little words can have dramatic effect both positively and negatively across a company.
Used correctly, these simple little words can bring about camaraderie, teamwork, togetherness and accountability. But they can also create divisiveness, dissention, angst, and finger pointing. In the former case, these simple little words can create tremendous stakeholder value and a place where people look forward to coming to work every day. In the latter, they are value destructive, result in an environment where people don’t enjoy working, and make it impossible for the company to hang onto A-players.
I once witnessed an incredibly powerful moment when the CEO stood up in front of the entire company and talked about a mistake. He chose the word “I”, no doubt, deliberately. He said “I own that decision. It was a mistake. Let’s learn from it and move on.” He didn’t’ pass the buck, make excuses, or share the blame with others. It’s rare that a CEO makes a decision without the advice of his/her senior team so there was clearly room to share the blame but in singularly taking accountability, he acknowledged the fact that no one gets it right 100% of the time and gave permission for others to take prudent risks and sometimes fail. When talking about successes this same CEO always uses the word “we” or points to others who were instrumental in making something good happen.
On the other hand, I’ve witnessed management publicly use phrases like “You need to deliver the recommendation for my review.”, “Why didn’t you inform me sooner?”, and my personal favorite “That was your responsibility”. This kind of language puts others on the defensive and eliminates any spirit of cooperation and is usually an attempt by the person saying them to try to distance him or herself from taking accountability for results.
When something goes wrong, it’s important to understand the underlying cause so it isn’t repeated and there are certainly times when an individual must be held accountable for poor decisions or lack of action, but that is far different from the blame game fueled by the desire to position and posture to make oneself or group look good at the expense of others.
Results will be far better in an environment where people are working together toward a common goal as opposed to a divided environment where there is competition within. The goal of business is to expand the size of the overall pie thereby creating an environment where everyone wins not to divide the pie and see who can get the bigger piece.
Divisiveness is destructive whether in a company or across our great country. In a company it destroys value not only by the wasting of time and human capital but also through the lack of agreement upon a strategy and the necessary tactical execution. Across our country, it could become far more serious.
Whether your role is in politics or business, watch your language!
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