A few days ago a friend dropped by the office to share with me his experiences in carrying out his New Year’s resolution.
My friend, it seems, had resolved to enter 2012 with a commitment to no longer complain, or talk about other people in a negative way but rather, in the event that he has any issue with another person, to address them directly and attempt to resolve those issues.
He told me that he’d spent much of his life – as have so many of us – participating in office gossip, rumor spreading, wild speculation, and the negative critiquing of coworkers.
He told me that he has worked in three different corporations and had encountered that very same environment in each of them.
And an awakening moment had occurred for him some time ago when a co-worker overheard him sharing his concerns about her with a colleague, marched right up to him with, stood no more than 6 inches away, pointed a finger directly at his face, and asked three poignant questions.
She asked, “If you have these issues with me, why are you not man enough to come and speak with me about them? Why do you need to take the cowardly approach and talk about me behind my back? And how can you possibly have any reasonable expectation of these issues you have with me ever being resolved if I am not even aware of them?”
Her parting words, as she turned and left the room were these, “And if you aren’t willing to come and talk directly to me about any concerns you have with me then don’t come and talk to me about anything.”
That encounter took take place on Friday, December 30th, the final working day of 2011.
My friend told me he stood in that room with his mouth open for several moments as she stormed out of the room before he realized that she was absolutely correct.
He told me he was both ashamed and embarrassed by his behaviour and he immediately walked down the hall to her workstation and offered a sincere apology.
And thanked her for providing him with perhaps one of the most important lessons of his life.
And promised that this would never happen again.
He told her that he thought she was very courageous in addressing this matter in the way she had and that, in so doing, had made him a better person.
He told me that he spent the rest of the day thinking of that moment and that he had not realized how pervasive this practice had become throughout the organization.
And that he was a regular contributor
And he had gone home and sat down and, for the first time in many years, written out a New Year’s resolution that he knew he would not break.
In fact he wrote down two resolutions.
His first resolution, as mentioned above, was to never again gratuitously talk about a person behind their back. Instead, he resolved from that moment on, whenever he found himself in conflict with another person, regardless of the severity of the conflict, he would address the issue with that person and attempt to reach resolution as his first step in addressing this issue.
His second resolution was even more ambitious.
He resolved to work extremely hard to change the culture of the company so that gossip, rumor, innuendo and, in general, critical, negative talk would become part of their history and that the new culture, the one he was determined to create, would be one in which people, when faced with an “issue” with a co-worker, would in a respectful, non-aggressive, polite manner approach that person, share their concern and attempt to seek resolution.
And he had dropped by today to share with me how successful this initiative had become in just a matter of a few short weeks.
The first day back at work following the New Year’s holiday he had assembled all of the staff in their large meeting room and shared with them his idea for revolutionizing the culture of the organization.
Culture, he explained to them, was simply a word that meant “this is how we do things around here.”
And that the way for them to adopt and embrace a new culture – a new way of “doing things around here” – was to enlist their support in committing to walk away from that long-held, tradition, that had perhaps existed in this organization for decades, and to substitute that for a culture of respect, politeness, and most importantly, openness in which it was okay, and desirable, to address an issue with a co-worker in an attempt to reach resolution.
He stressed an extremely important point. He told them that while this was not always the easy thing to, it was always the right thing to do.
And he reminded them of that famous quote, “There are always two choices, two paths to take. One is easy and that is its only reward.”
And he certainly pointed out that there were times when this approach would be neither appropriate nor safe and that the use of discretion was always an essential part of an intelligent strategy.
And now, in the fifth week of the new year, he was sitting across from me and telling me that the incidence of people talking behind the backs of others, while not completely eliminated, had been substantially reduced and that numerous people who had come to see him and told him of how much more they enjoyed coming to work since they had adopted this new “culture.”
He told me of instances of old feuds being resolved, barriers to productivity being torn down and a noticeable narrowing of the long perceived gaps between management and staff.
All because one person had displayed the courage and determination to “confront” an offender and put a stop to an unproductive and damaging practice.
And who was this brave person?
She was, and still is, his brand new assistant who had started her new job with his company only three days before she had taught him that life-altering lesson.
And, in so doing, had shown him how to transform an entire company in an instant.
It’s amazing how small changes in behaviour can lead to massive improvements in quality of life.
I think we should all adopt her lesson
Till we read again.