When Work Feels Like Middle School All Over Again

Looking back on my last few months’ worth of posts, I realize there has been very little of “what I think” writing and a lot of “for a cause” writing. You know I am a fan of “for a cause” writing but I did start blogging three years ago to exercise the writing muscle. And just as with regular exercise, if you don’t vary the muscles you exercise you end up unbalanced.

Fortunately, my bloggy friend Maria from Tough Cookie Mommy asked a question on Facebook this week, and my honest response falls squarely into the category of “what I think.”

Her question was:

“Why is it that every workplace has issues with gossiping and negative competition?”

When I first saw Maria’s question, I had limited time to answer, but I knew that I could quickly find something relevant at the blog of the leader who I respect so much: Dan Rockwell. Therefore, as a placeholder, I posted a link to his post, Dealing With Tattlers, Liars, and Backstabbers, as a comment, along with a promise to come back later and expound.

Later that evening, I poured a glass of wine and wrote:

I think most workplaces have issues with gossiping and backstabbing because, whether they make widgets or teach kids (that one’s for you! [Maria is a teacher]), write code or save lives, ultimately all organizations are composed of human beings. To take a little of a tangent, I think we are all responsible for the attitude we bring in to the workplace. To some degree, we have some choice over whether the environment makes us miserable or overjoyed. To take another tangent, my measure of how difficult the workplace is, is always the military. I may be irritated because a coworker sent me a snotty email or threw me under the bus or wasn’t helpful or dumped something on me, but all in all I am physically safe, able to pursue my goals relatively unimpeded, and can go home to a safe and loving place at night. I am not getting shot at or living in danger 24/7, possibly ALSO in a place where there is whining, backstabbing, and gossip. Back to the original point — I think all places have it [gossiping/negative competition] (most anyway) but the solution to minimizing it lies in a) the tone the leader sets – the leader has far more power than they sometimes realize in crafting an environment of collegiality (in fact it’s a lot like parenting but I digress b) hiring the right people and making the difficult decision to remove the extremely unproductive and/or extremely disruptive from the environment and c) making measurements of how people perform as specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely as possible (SMART). When it is clear what you have to do to succeed, and how you can help others on the team, there is less room for sniping about who did what, who got what advantage, and everything that leads to resentment and feelings of inequity. I realize this is in some way a pie in the sky ideal. But I am almost 50 years old and still believe that it is out there somewhere — a team that puts its mission first and is willing to bolster each other in order to do it rather than tripping each other up. The end. I may have just written a blog post of my own. 🙂

Even later (thanks Maria for getting me on a roll……), I added this comment:

I think part of it goes to tiptoeing around difficult situations, and as this article says “That silence breeds gossip, obsessive thoughts, and generally disgruntled workers.” and a link to the post from which I took the quote, “How To Foster a Feedback-Friendly Company.”

And that, dear readers, is what I think about that. Most of us have to work for a living. Some of us are fortunate not to have to work for a paycheck but still give our time, energy, and souls to volunteer causes we love. The best organizations I have seen are the ones that embrace their mission from the top down andhave strong leaders who know (and demonstrate) that organizations thrive when people operate from a position that is the opposite of fear: call it confidence, call it focus on mission, call it “engaged.” The ones where everyone realizes that gossip and backstabbing are just wastes of time that interfere with progress toward getting the job done and going home happy at night.

Have you worked or volunteered someplace that was relatively free of gossip and negative competition? If so, what do you think made the organization that way?


3 thoughts on “When Work Feels Like Middle School All Over Again

  1. Hi, Paula. I’m so excited that my status update prompted such an honest and creative response from you. I completely agree with you but two particular points really resonate with me. First of all, engaging in this kind of nonsense at work is reminiscent of middle school and high school. Secondly, administrators certainly set the tone for the environment and positive competition, or lack thereof, at work. It is worth investigating that these negative issues are planted deliberately in order to create a “gotcha” environment. They certainly impede worker productivity and make work miserable for a lot of people. Perhaps if people left their issues at home when they go to work, it would help to improve social conditions. Thanks so much for the mention and your response. You truly are one of my favorite readers.

  2. My husband suffered work place bullying and that’s adult fire fighters! Thankfully he sorted it out and the person was moved to another fire station. There is nothing worse than feeling picked on or talked about. I was verbally bullied at school not nice at all
    Hi found you via the blog hope and are now a new follower. Please pop over to see me any time
    Www. Jollyjillys.blogspot.com

    • Hi Jill, thanks so much for stopping by. I am glad the situation with your husband got resolved. But those types of things really are daunting among adults, aren’t they?! Stopping by your blog soon!

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