Wouldn't it be great if when people were wrong, they could just 'fess up, apologize and take different actions to move forward? Just imagine the increased opportunities of positive and productive workplaces. Call me a dreamer!
Unfortunately, egos get in the way and fear stops us from acting on our healthier options.
Recently, I've had two different people consult with me who had almost identical stories. They were each facing managers who were behaving in a prejudiced manner based strictly on malicious gossip.
In a gossip-ridden workplace, a team can take a dislike to one individual. This can happen when the person states the obvious, much to the discomfort of the rest of the group. Sometimes they have outperformed their colleagues or received recognition of some type.
In both these cases, the managers refused to engage in a constructive dialogue and simply aligned themselves with rumours and gossip. The managers had had meetings with my callers and accused them as though the rumours were fact. (It's hard to fix what you didn't do.) Those being gossiped about were being used as scapegoats for the dysfunction of their work environment.
They each asked me why these managers were treating them so unfairly, not even open to hearing their versions of what really happened. Conspiracy theories aside, for the managers to change course, they would have to admit they may have been wrong and listen.
I've noticed there are three recurring reasons why someone won't admit they're wrong and turn off their ability to listen.
1. Cognitive dissonance
When they hear these planted doubts, they start looking for little clues that it "might be" true and form a solid opinion. Convincing themselves, they become complicit in scapegoating the person by accusing instead of gathering data. They need to believe the majority and will create justifications in their mind. Even if they realize they might be wrong, if they value the relationships with the gossipers, they will figure out an excuse to make it fit.
Good leaders will address the gossip. But a poor manager will blame the victim for the discord and align with the team, justifying the complaints.
2. Afraid to make a mistake
If they always need to save face, they identify success with always being right. Saying "I might have made a mistake" is emotionally painful and puts them in a state of loss of power. They will avoid admitting an error, unless refusing to do so creates a lot more pain than 'fessing up.
What feeds this is that they are great at keeping track of the times they got what they wanted which provides proof to themselves that staying the course regardless is a strength. This mindset is very rigid.
3. Never learned how
Our role models growing up impact all of us in the way we see the world. If they saw a competitive, critical environment; they learned that they must make decisions quickly and not look back, to keep their eye on the prize. Being exposed to a lot of competitiveness, it is more likely that they react to their environment with the prism that everything is a war zone of winners and losers. "The goal is the goal is the goal, and collateral damage is normal as long as I win."
Regardless of the reason, if you are the victim of someone who is treating you unfairly, there are only three things you can choose to do moving forward.
Before you choose an option, it is important to first reflect on whether you think the relationship is salvageable or is very important to keep. The value of keeping this relationship informs which of these three actions we will take.
1. Adapting to the environment
If you choose to do nothing, you are adapting to the behaviour. This mode can be very useful when we are allowing things to cool down. Staying out of the line of fire is a temporary remedy and can be harmful to your mental wellness in the long run. If you are ready to consent to their treatment and allow the behaviours to continue, you are accepting that this is OK with you.
That is not healthy in the long run because constructive dialogue is necessary to move forward. Don't plan to live there.
2. Changing the environment
This always starts with reviewing our own behaviour. Then we must decide how to change our responses to their behaviour to get a different reaction from them. If we are getting defensive, that will escalate the difficulties.
When trying to create change, we must be looking for our common goals and dialogue on the things we can agree on first. Using an unbiased person as a sounding board gives us confidence and keeps us from overreacting.
3. Leaving the environment
When things are never going to change and we are unhappy (or our well being could become compromised) it is our responsibility to look for a healthier situation. Without the ability to dialogue in a fair and open manner, leaving and cutting our losses must be considered.
Sometimes, leaving is simply not an option. Only you can discern your own situation. If you have no choice but to stay, double check with an unbiased person to evaluate if there really are no other options. Then, if you know you should leave but cannot, protect yourself by getting some support to change the environment. It's an investment in yourself.
Have you ever witnessed or been victim to unfair gossip or accusations? Or worse, have you had to deal with an angry person that seems to have it out for you and attacks you unfairly?
Check out a cool downloadable infographic that goes through the three possible options I just shared by clicking here. As a bonus, on the infographic, there is an extra, very unhealthy option that people do too often. Don't be that person!
If you have any questions, please drop me a line. I'd love to help if I can.
To your empowered self!
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Example: At dinner last Thanksgiving, you drank a little too much and made inappropriate comments at the table. Why this is apology-worthy: When you are the obvious cause of a social malfunction, you need to own it to those offended by your behavior. You’ll make things much worse if you act like nothing happened. What to say: First, you need to admit to yourself that the behavior was not okay. Then call the others who were in attendance and tell them you recognize that your behavior was inappropriate and offer your sincere regrets for single-handedly messing up and making others uncomfortable. It’s especially important to call the host and hostess. Don’t say: “I drink because family dinners make me anxious. My bad.” Blaming it on something that seems beyond your control is not a true apology.
Example: You and your spouse or partner fight frequently about money, but he’s usually the one to patch things up. Why this is apology-worthy: If balance is essential to good relationships, this is clearly a sign of imbalance. By rarely initiating an apology, you’re implying you’re always the one in the right no matter what. Maybe this is good for your ego, but it’s bad for the relationship. Have this happen enough and your spouse may ultimately find the relationship too costly, and any subsequent apologies will be too little, too late. What to say: Tell your spouse that you are responsible for your part in the conflict, and be specific about your role and what you’ve done wrong. Talk to him or her as soon after the misunderstanding as possible. Don’t say: “I guess it’s my turn to say, ’Sorry,’ so, ‘Sorry!’” This is not genuine, and won’t help you any.
Example: You correct a friend or colleague publicly and then keep harping on their mistake. Why this is apology-worthy: Embarrassing someone is nothing short of eroding their self-esteem. Even if it’s inadvertent, you’ll know you’ve crossed acceptable boundaries when they wince, shrink back, or become quieter. You then have an obligation to repair the damage. What to say: Admit that you have made the other person feel belittled and that you feel bad for doing so. Ask what you can do to make amends. Don’t say: “You know I was just kidding. I didn’t mean anything by it.” This does nothing to mend the relationship—you need to take responsibility.
Example: You tell your spouse you paid the mortgage when, in fact, you haven’t done it yet. (Procrastination? Short on money? It doesn’t matter.) Why this is apology worthy: Talk about a relationship buster. Lies, unlike other transgressions, have an added layer of nastiness. Besides doing something you should or shouldn’t have done, you use a lie to cover it up. The wrongdoing will ultimately be superseded by the falsehood—creating a major erosion of trust in your relationship. What to say: Tell your spouse that you have erred in two ways—by not doing the action and by lying. Remedy the first wrongdoing and express regret for lying, acknowledging that it was a poor way to handle the situation. Don’t say: “I was just trying to protect you.” No, you were just trying to protect yourself.
Example: You promise to take the grandkids to the movies, but the day of, you cancel, even though there’s no really good reason. Why this is apology-worthy: Sure, things come up, but, in general, part of the social contract with others is that we’ll keep our word, and that we can be counted on to do what we said we’d do. Breaking your word is another trust-buster. It’s a big deal even when you don’t think so. What to say: That you have been disrespectful and inconsiderate and that in the future, your word is gold. (Then prove it!) Don’t say: “It’s actually better we didn’t go to the movies on Monday because I’ve since heard the film was terrible.” Or some other justification for bailing. Nothing justifies breaking your word.
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