Based on dozens of articles that arrived in my inbox in a single week, one might think that the majority of people work in difficult work-cultures, alongside clueless co-workers, under distrusting bosses. Here are a few examples:
- “You’re the Boss, Not the Babysitter”
- “What to Do When Your Employees Won’t Stop Whining”
- “Giving Feedback to the Clueless”
- “How to Survive a Toxic Boss”
Fortunately, most of us don’t work for or around people like these. Yet, we can create our own versions of “us” versus “them” without even realizing it. The reality is that what we focus on is what we see. When you’re thinking about buying a new car, you notice only the model you want; having a baby and you see babies; think your boss is difficult and you’ll spot behaviors reinforcing it.
People who are winning at working know that what they focus on is what they see. That can be helpful or detrimental, so they’re careful with how they describe themselves and others. They understand that labels impact how we see our world.
Take generational labels for example. There are thousands of articles about why millennials are “so unique” and what they “expect” and “must have” at work. But, lost in those labels and the differences-between-us-headlines is the fact that researchers continue to confirm that we are more alike than we are different.
You see, when we label each other, we reinforce our differences, building “identification-based distrust.” Labels such as these – supervisor or staff, exempt or non-exempt, line or support, professional or trade, management or union, boomer or millennial, techie or not-techie, man or woman, and dozens more, increase focus on our differences, not our similarities. And that can increase work relationship distrust while reducing cooperation, collaboration, and results.
How we label each other enhances what we think we “see” and creates expectations of what “those others” will do or not do, and what to expect from “them.” That in turn, changes our interactions and our results when we view and interpret actions or intentions solely based on a “group membership,” which is, of course, different from our own.
People who are winning at working don’t categorize and divide people into groups, especially by generation, ethnicity, gender, department, industry, or position. Instead, they look for and reinforce the similarities they share with others, knowing that most of us want interesting work, a good salary, a stable and secure future, a chance to learn new things, a way to make a difference through our work, a thank you for work well done, and an engaging work culture. Most of us want to do a good job and thrive at work. What that looks like and how we go about it may differ, but the larger elements don’t.
Workplace relationships are complicated, challenging, and conflicted enough without increasing our ways to build silos, point finger, and diminish trust.
People who are winning at working make their own determinations about people without labels, others’ opinions, or headlines that fuel self-fulfilling prophecies, skepticism, or negative expectations. They see people as individuals. And because they do, both their work relationships and their results are elevated.
Ask yourself: who are you focusing on at work? Problem people or great people? The 10 percent who create problems or the 90 percent who don’t? What do you see when you look around your work group? The headlines of those articles, or the talents and possibilities of the people you work with? For those who are winning at working, the answer is easy.