In a recent Fox Sports interview embattled Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito told Jay Glazer that the sort of (in his words) “vulgar” language he used with teammate Jonathan Martin was not grounded in racism but were reflective of the culture prevalent in the NFL. “No matter how bad and how vulgar it sounds, that’s how we communicate,” Incognito told Glazer.
The comment got me thinking about Intel’s culture of “constructive confrontation.” In a blog post cited by Bob Sutton, former Intel employee and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, Logan Shrine, former Intel employee and author of Losing Faith, said that “constructive confrontation was a license for assholes to be assholes and express themselves… It wasn’t there to police them, but to give people carte blanche to express those behaviors.” As a former Intel employee myself I can say that, like many other cultural behaviors, constructive confrontation was a two-edged sword. I saw many great collaborative decisions come about thanks to the practice, but I’ve also seen bullies hide behind the sacred cow and create an environment of fear and self-doubt.
All of this should cause us to step back and ask ourselves the question, does my workplace culture create the sort of environment that brings out the very best in performance and allows both my organization and employees to thrive?
When it comes to personal behavior, below are a few things to consider:
Trust and respect
People will not give of themselves wholly to a cause unless there is an environment of trust and respect. Without this assurance members will hold back. No one is going to make themselves fully vulnerable unless they trust those around them.
Recognition for contributions
For us to give our very best to an organization we need to feel that our competencies and contributions are recognized and appreciated. This means that to support our teammates we need to recognize and reward them for the contributions they bring to the team.
Reflect your best self
The virtue approach to ethical behavior asks us to consider what behaviors embody our highest potential. It asks us to consider whether the behavior is consistent with our best selves. It also asks us to consider what sort of person we will become should we choose a given course of behavior. (Put another way, would you do or say it in front of your mother?)
Many schoolyard and workplace bullies justify their behavior by saying that it’s all in fun and it’s just the way things are done. It’s been my experience thought that it’s all in fun for them and how they get things done. The question is whether you have an organization where members can call this sort of behavior for what it is or have to live in fear of retaliation and keep quiet in their discomfort.