Whenever there is a challenge in business or whenever something breaks, our natural tendency is to find someone to blame. Often this comes from a motivation to seek out the source of the challenge and correct it. Yet, in our desire to correct mistakes and prevent future challenges, we often focus on the negative, and we inevitably end up speaking negatively about the people involved in or responsible for the situation. In fact, it is very difficult to correct someone without saying something negative.
Yet, as leaders, when we speak negatively about others, we devalue those people. As leaders, it's critical that we value people as human beings and behave accordingly. If people see their leader as callous, unfeeling, or harsh, the leader will lose the trust of his or her team. Trust is essential in getting team members to follow a vision and be accountable. Speaking negatively with regard to others only damages the perception of a leader.
When we have challenges in our organization, we say, "It's the process, not the person!" This reminds us that challenges and mistakes are usually due to a void in the process, the process documentation, or a simple misunderstanding. We know that people are naturally prone to mistakes. This is why we create checks and balances to keep processes running smoothly. This also forces us to redefine what we consider to be negative behavior or incompetence. We must do everything possible to support our team; therefore, we must take responsibility for correcting and enhancing processes.
Focusing on process diminishes negativity and increases morale, but we also focus on protecting our employees from workplace gossip. In our office, we have a no-gossip policy in place. Negativity is not only spread by leadership, but by rank-and-file team members as well. What does our no-gossip policy do? Simple--it eliminates gossip within the workplace. We view gossip as a kind of cancer. Most often, it is rooted in negative speculation and is harmful to whomever the gossip is directed toward. Our no-gossip policy states that you are not allowed to complain about a person or challenge to someone who cannot resolve the issue. It's pretty simple, really--complaints and gossip, in and of themselves, are just verbal negativity. They do not actually move anything forward, and in fact take time, focus, and energy away from the parties involved. If, however, someone comes to manager or leader with a challenge, then there can be a discussion of how to resolve the challenge and move forward in a positive direction.
We want to consistently move our company forward. Therefore, we don't focus on negative energy. Of course, people get frustrated in any organization, so we want them to have an outlet that will relieve that frustration. In most cases, gossip is simply speculative. People tend to gripe about someone or something that they have limited knowledge about. A good example of this is when people are redeployed. We insist on avoiding the standard and insincere line "...left to pursue other opportunities". Rather, we give real reasons why an employee no longer works with us.
You might think this is crazy. However, except when legally prohibited to do so, this tactic actually works. Why? Speculation and gossip are quelled. Often, the real reason for redeployment is much more benign than what people dream up. By nipping that kind of negative speculation in the bud, we are being transparent and moving forward rather than focusing on gossip and negativity.As a leader, it is incredibly important to be trusted. Creating a transparent, positive environment in which you share openly, honestly, and without malice is essential. Fostering trust means you must be:
- Trustworthy. People should be able to be honest with you, and trust that you will be honest with them and treat them with integrity.
- True to your word. A big part of acting with integrity is following through on what you say you are going to do. If you make a promise, be sure you fulfill that promise.
- Respectful to those around you. Treating others as human beings, rather than parts of a process or products, goes a long way in building trust.
So, how can you build trust and create a more positive work environment in your organization almost immediately? First, remember that what you focus on expands. By recognizing that focusing on the positive will move you forward, you can begin to eliminate the negative from your organization. Remember, negativity robs you of productivity and progress.
We have an even more tactical suggestion. We call it the "One-week Challenge." For one week, avoid speaking negatively about any person, regardless of the circumstances. It won't be easy. (That's why we call it a challenge.) It is likely that you will have a few slip-ups, but that is okay.
We guarantee that simply attempting this challenge will change the way you think about and react to people--especially your team. Chances are, your positive attitude will rub off on others, and soon you'll find that you are building momentum, making progress, and moving forward together.
Alex & Cadey Charfen are the Co-Founders of the Charfen Institute.