What do you put up with at work? What behaviors or situations trouble you, but for one reason or another, you choose not to say or do something? They may be small things: co-workers arriving to meetings late or staring at their phones while you’re talking. Maybe you resent misuses of your time: unnecessary emails, ineffective meetings, gossip-y conversations, cleaning up after others in the break room. Perhaps you tolerate situations that seem uncomfortable or daunting: bullying or disrespectful behavior, inappropriate jokes, double-standards about discipline, unsafe behaviors by senior team members. We see these things and think, should I say something or not? In the moment, it feels like a personal decision. What will I do? But here’s the problem: others are watching. When we see something and choose not to say something, we’re communicating, “I’m okay with this. This is how we work here.” And other folks notice.
When we tolerate something, we demonstrate acceptance… even approval.
Why do we tolerate things we know we should change? What gets in our way? Sometimes we feel powerless: I’m just one person; I’m not in charge here; how can I influence all of these people? Often there’s a risk of conflict: if I say something, it’s only going to lead to an argument. We tell ourselves it’s none of our business: I’m not paid to chase after this stuff… these folks are adults… they should know better. And we rationalize: it’s not really a big thing, so why bother? Consider this: whatever is leading you to tolerate this situation is getting in your way in other places too. There’s wisdom in the old saying, “How you do something is how you do everything.” If you’re avoiding conflict with someone who is chronically late to meetings, you’re likely avoiding conflict on other topics. If you’re withholding feedback about someone’s crappy emails, you’re likely withholding feedback on other issues too. If you’re not saying something when a co-worker fails to make a fresh pot of coffee, you’re likely ducking other, more significant conversations. It can be scary, but when we take on something we’ve tolerated, we show our commitment to our organization, our team and ourselves: we lead… and invite others to do the same. So… what to do? What’s the response when we notice ourselves tolerating something?
  1. Start with you. Make sure your own house is in order. Frustrated by folks not following safety rules? Make sure you follow them without fail. Look for your role in the problem — ask, ‘how am I part of this?’ Frustrated by people showing up to your meetings late? Be sure to end your meetings early so people can make their next appointments on-time. Don’t be self-righteous about it, but make sure your behavior is impeccable.
  2. Find allies. If something is bothering you, chances are it’s bothering others too. Talk to them; let them know what you’re up to; ask them to hold you accountable and call you on it when you come up short; invite your allies to join you by getting their own houses in order. Resist the temptation of complaining about the folks who are not on-board yet — just focus on keeping your side of the the street clean.
  3. Speak up… carefully. The moment will come when you need to say something about the situation — the time will come to give someone feedback. The best way to avoid conflict and maximize the likelihood of a constructive conversation is to speak about yourself. Stick to your side of the situation; avoid making any judgements or criticisms of the other person: When I see _______ I think/feel ______ so I do/say _______. Talk to the other person, not about them; focus the conversation on the behavior rather than the person.
Here’s the Jedi mind-trick: the first step in influencing others is recognize how little control we have over others. The only person who can change what another person thinks is that person. We’re well-served to let go of expectations of correcting the other person and focus instead on giving them information about how their behavior is affecting us. Then it’s up to them to choose. Ugh. What a hassle! Who wants to go through all this? Isn’t it just easier to soldier on and keep putting up with the status quo? I say, “No!” When we tolerate something, we’re perpetuating it — we’re resigning ourselves to workplace that is less effective, satisfying and fulfilling. When we tolerate something we surrender, just a bit — we cede control and make it harder to find joy and fulfillment in our work. When we tolerate something, we settle… we settle for less, from or organization, from our co-workers, from ourselves. It’s time to take on the things you’ve been tolerating. Interested in learning more? Ready to take on the things you’ve been tolerating? We’re ready to help.   This article first appeared on www.humanus-solutions.com About the author: Andy Erickson is a principal and CTO at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at aerickson@humanus-solutions.com www.humanus-solutions.com 

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