Dysfunction and Our Shared Existence

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, this is not total warfare we are talking about here.  If you are the chief, you just can’t get rid of every employee.  You could, technically, but given the mess you will create doing it, you must accept that there will be no total housecleaning. 
Likewise, if you are an employee, no matter how bad you want the chief to go, you can consider that removing this individual is going to be messy and difficult.  And you may lose anyway.  Placing ultimatums on the removal of individuals doesn’t help either.  Most people will see through that as trying to remove all opposition and there will be consequences, I promise. 
In a privately owned company, maybe you could get away with it, but to give you a parallel, the same action at a nation-state level is considered “ethnic cleansing”.  People get tried at The Hague for moves like those.  So assuming we need to live with one another, the most complicated part of this equation is that if you intend your organization to survive intact, regardless of how much you believe your perspective to be the “right” one, is that you MUST at least concede some ground.  At the very least, you must accept that while you may consider the opposing viewpoint wrong, it is still right to the other person.  Belittling that perspective, reacting angrily to it, or attacking it is NOT going to solve the problem.
The phenomenon known as confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.  This bias is associated with “selective remembrance” and much stronger when facing an emotionally charged issue or a deeply entrenched belief.  These biases also factor into attitude polarization, which is when disagreement becomes even more entrenched even though the opposing parties are exposed to the same evidence.
We have some assumptions to contend with.  First: that both sides in the argument have in common a few things that they are opposing and neither party cares to leave or stand down.  The next assumption is that the organization has a shared mission of some sort as a reason for existing. In the case of a fire department, I would venture that all the parties involved want to provide adequate fire protection for the jurisdiction.  We all may agree that this is the mission, but our conflict may be that we have wildly divergent views on how it should be performed.  This isn’t bad, though, because we now have a shared desire and a place to begin at.
From here, though, we need to perform some introspection as it relates to our shared values.  You may very well be a toxic leader or you may be a leader of a toxic organization, but in looking at how others see us we get insight into how they may react to certain things we say or do.  Then when we look at that shared mission (“We all want to fight fire”), we may readily see that we don’t agree on how, but we ALL DO agree we want to fight fire.  So that’s where you start.
When we look at the shared reason we have to function together, a large amount of the conflict in these events is that both sides have a passion for the problem and both see their way as being the way to address the problem.  Unfortunately, not all issues of managing can be resolved by consensus.  From time to time there will be hard choices that require unavoidable winner and loser decisions.  We can work together to minimize the times those decisions have to be made and we can work toward understanding the predicament that we are put in sometimes, but to reflexively reject all efforts at compromise because they conflict with your vision of how the problem must be solved is going to ensure you remain in this intractable environment.
Tomorrow we will talk about toxic leaders.

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