Blog by Peter Dove

Shared Values Associates

Stylish businessman choosing profile pictureI was in a Bank of America branch some time ago standing in line for the teller. There were about four of us in the queue when in walks this young man in his early 20s with purple hair, a gallery of tattoos on his arms, a pierced nose wearing a ball cap that read F*#@ YOU.

As it happens, this is the USA and we enjoy freedom of speech, so if an individual wants to be boorish there is a certain latitude allowed, a latitude that seems to be expanding, which is lamentable but that is for another article.

Of course, many in the bank saw exactly what I saw, but did anyone walk up to this nice young man and diplomatically explain that others might apprehend this slogan, as popular as it may be, is insulting? No, not even me and I’m an executive coach and have been in the training business for decades. So, what did I and the rest in the branch allow? It’s okay to tell strangers, including children, in the most vulgar and insulting way possible, exactly what to do. That’s what was taught, though none of us realized it and perhaps might not admit that fact.

Rather than ask, “What are we allowing in our society?” – though a good question to be sure – let’s ask what are we allowing in our company, department or team because that is what we are teaching whether good or ill.

Here are some examples of what we might be allowing that we may wish to reconsider.

  • Getting to work late or going home early.
  • Nervous laughter. They seem to punctuate every sentence with a giggle. Nothing’s that funny.
  • Foul language.
  • Taking God’s name in vain.
  • Questionable clothing.
  • Bad hygiene.
  • Failure to meet deadlines way too often and asking for more time.
  • More work piled upon more work creating work/life imbalance.
  • Untrustworthy boss or co-worker.

You get the idea.  All of us have seen this behavior at some point and the question is, do we tolerate it? Why? What can be done? Answer: the uncompromising truth.

The solution is to create a social contract now, beforehand. How about we all get together and make it okay for us to be straight with each other? The boss should promote this idea on an ongoing basis for it to succeed as well as it might.

Both his or her position power and referent power (earned respect) must be used to make this rule sustainable. The conversation might go something like this, “From time to time I think all of us are guilty of behaving in a way that is bothersome to someone else on the team. I’d like to create an understanding that should something like that happen, go ahead and take the accountability to have a respectful conversation with that person and get the issue out on the table.”

This is a simple thing, but perhaps a difficult conversation for most. But, what is allowed is ultimately taught.

What kind of behavior is allowed at home? Consider establishing a social contract within our families. What are the ground rules? What is OK behavior, what is not and what are the consequences? I think the adage, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” has broad application and is as true now as it was 2000 years ago.

About the Author

Peter Dove, is president of Shared Values Associates, a firm dedicated to corporate culture design. Learn more about Peter Dove at www.peterdove.com.