"What we actually learn from any given set of circumstances determines whether we become increasingly powerless or more powerful." ~Blaine Lee
"Make sure your worst enemy doesn't live between your own two ears." ~Laird Hamilton
If you aren’t careful in managing your surrounding and their impact on you they can influence your behavior in surprising and unhealthy ways. This goes just as much for the conversation you have in the hallway as it does for the overall organizational culture. There is a saying that says “A rising tide raises all ships” and it can mean that strong surroundings can make everyone stronger. There is also a flip side of that in that “A lower tide lowers all ships” and makes the team weaker.
One of the places where we can struggle is not in dealing with the culture of the organization, but with individuals. This is most apparent when dealing with someone who we feel is general uninformed and who we may feel is just off base with their thought process. We’re all human and we can sometimes react with more emotion than logic when faced with something we don’t understand. It can be a peer, a leader, an employee or just about anyone in the workplace. When faced with this person regularly, we usually start referring to them using the “s-word”, stupid.
*Disclaimer – I freely use the term “stupid” in this article and I realize some may find it derogatory, but making it PC was watering down the message. So agreed, it’s not a term to use regularly, but please try to focus on the message.
If you work with enough people you will eventually come across all types; brilliant, sometimes brilliant, average, sometimes stupid, and amazingly stupid. If you’re honest with yourself, in moments of frustration you’ve made all of these same assessments. The issue today is when dealing with those who fall in the latter categories, we can’t let them “lower our tide.” So how is it that we catch the “stupid bug” and how can we fight off infection.
Stupidity can be like a strong current - So find firm ground – Oftentimes one bad decision or thought begets further bad decisions and thoughts. This is the most common way that stupidity grows and spreads around an issue or organization. We get tired of fighting it, or feel pressured to go along with it, so we do. The key is to “quarantine” the bad decision or thought and limit its influence on the rest of the process. This doesn’t mean you’re being stubborn or dogmatic, it means you have your principles and priorities in place and are constantly defending them. So keep your “true north” principles of serving customers, driving profitability, innovating etc. and you’ll be more resilient to the “stupid bug”
Stupidity can make you tune out – Don’t – I will tell you that this is my most common way of dealing with stupidity when I find it in the workplace, I’m not proud of saying it, I’m just being honest. The thing is that you might miss out on all kinds of things if you tune out and you relgate yourself to the sidelines. It’s like giving up. Ignorance is stupidity’s half-brother so you need to fight it off as much as you can.
Stupidity can lay over the organization like fog – Be the lighthouse – If there are enough bad decisions being made then stupidity can infect the whole organization. You see this with every large corporate failure. In those cases the principles and priorities that we referenced above become the lighthouse that hopefully keeps the organization from running aground. When feeling lost in a sea of stupidity, look to those principles for guidance away from even further danger.
Realize YOU might be the stupid one – Ouch! – Show me a leader who thinks they haven’t been wrong and I’ll show you one that is lying to themselves. There’s a good chance you aren’t as informed as you think you are, or you’re just being stubborn for any number of reasons. This is why it is important to keep asking questions and to keep being open to new possibilities. That’s your only defense against yourself.
Stupidity is contagious, but that doesn’t mean that you will automatically catch it. Just be aware of your reaction to it when you face it and be mindful of the fact that you can thoughtfully and constructively deal with it so that it doesn’t infect you too.
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