Candid Organizational Cultures Thrive
Rick Forbus, PhD
The lack of candidness is an issue in many organizations. Actually it is an obstacle to having open, honest, and healthily divergent group discussions.
Why are people that work together resistant to being open with each other in the workplace?
I asked some of the team I was coaching in an international company why this was such an issue. The answers were various but contained similarities. The team said these things were the indicators of a lack of candidness:
- Their personal relationships were more important than real openness to job-related weakness and improvement.
- In meetings a functional team leader normally did not allow for open discussions so everyone just sat back listened and left the meeting.
- Because of a need to become ascendant many withhold anything that could expose them as vulnerable or ill-informed
- Conflict avoidance has been practiced to a fault in the organization
Candid can mean:
Openness is essentially the willingness to grow distaste for ruts, eagerly standing on tiptoe for a better view of what tomorrow brings. A man once bought a new radio, brought it home, placed it on the refrigerator, plugged it in, turned it to WSM in Nashville (home of the Grand Ole Opry), and then pulled all the knobs off! He had already tuned in all he ever wanted or expected to hear. Some marriages are ‘rutted” and rather dreary because either or both partners have yielded to the tyranny of the inevitable, ‘what has been will still be.” Stay open to newness. Stay open to change.
In our work at Trove, inc. with organizational teams, we use an assessment or two to better define the “corporate personality” of the enterprise. Without implying anything too clinical, we certainly measure work team personalities that are passive aggressive in functionality. When expressed in meetings and decision-making activities, an organization can become incapacitated with behaviors that are much like passive aggressive.
Passive-aggressive personality disorder is a condition in which a person seems to actively comply with the desires and needs of others, but actually passively resists them. In the practice, the person becomes increasingly hostile and angry.
A client recently described the culture and her feelings just like this definition. Not to overstate this cultural condition, but, as a company we assess, coach and train in organizations that resemble this “disorder” evidentially. Corporate symptoms could be:
A resentment of responsibility and showing it through collective behaviors, rather than, by openly expressing their feelings, is one sign. These organizations often use procrastination, inefficiency, and “forgetfulness” to avoid doing what they need to do, corporately.
Some common symptoms of passive-aggressive personality disorder include:
Avoiding responsibility by claiming forgetfulness
Being inefficient on purpose
Having a fear of authority
Having unexpressed anger or hostility
Although no organization contains all of these “symptoms,” many guarded and resistant cultures exhibit some of these. What is interesting is that because of the “under ground” behaviors it becomes difficult to convene teams to examine these and to work to overcome them. In other words, the team will know that these team behaviors exist, but because the culture has reset its practices to “passive aggressive” the beginning attempts at diagnoses and prescriptive action is even difficult.
One organization that we have worked in for years seems to practice these passive aggressive behaviors no matter the training or coaching. They individually complain about how the culture never seems to get functional. Yet, when it comes to interactions in meetings, strategic planning discussions or teamwork, these passive behaviors overrule their known leadership competencies. How do individuals and organizations overcome these damaging and unproductive practices? There is no easy way to overcome a reluctant culture that has stagnated through conflict avoidance and low-risk behaviors. Some organizational leaders are not aware that ROI or profitability is hindered. Others, in government or non-profit work forget that effectiveness ROE (Return on Effectiveness) is slowed if not stopped.
A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason. Let us…always reveal with utmost honesty our real reasons for all that we do. Unknown
As we continue this topic a small dose of levity is needed. Passive Aggressive (PA) conversations happen all around us.
Here are a few good PA quotes that we all hear: (Some of these are pretty good to better avoid being totally honest in certain situations, I guess.)
- How’s that working out for you? (Response to a stupid “life” decision.)
- This is a…memorable dish. (For that potluck dinner bad dish with its insistent chef.)
- Your mother must be so proud.
- No, really, DO go on. (Insanely boring or insignificant conversation.)
- Please, don’t take my unconsidered reaction as typical.
- I hope this will turn out to be everything you want it to be.
- What a brave combination! (For a questionable fashion choice)
- Well, that about says it all. (I love this one. Works with just about any preposterous situation.)
- I prefer it otherwise.
- I would have NEVER thought of doing it that way.
- That’s the greatest thing about being American. We can disagree on these things.
- One hardly knows what to say.
Trove, Inc. has had tremendous success at overcoming cultural passive aggressive behaviors through the use of our assessments, group feedback session and general professional training and coaching one on one. We have found a “secret recipe” to bring prescriptive help to such companies and organizations. One great pay off for me as a coach is to work and work, and, coach and coach, and, train and train, and, hold group session after group session, and, finally recognize an organizational breakthrough! It is what gets me up in the morning. These tough cultures that have withdrawn from healthy divergent discussions, synergistic meetings and candid conversations that, then, press past into productive teams make it all worthwhile.
Be candid with everyone.
Maybe you should make some goals regarding your team that include an operating principle called openness. How will you celebrate candid and energetic discussions? How will you help your team become more synergistic?
Openness means keeping our minds and hearts available for new experiences, ideas, and relationships. It means working to shift beyond the boundaries of the familiar, in particular the walls that can be erected by culture and tradition. Openness and curiosity are two of the primary conditions for discovery. Candid interactions, with pre-planned personal safety, can bring about amazing creative energies on intact teams. Openness feels risky, because it means venturing to unfamiliar ground, but can also be full of unexpected gladness. When we are open, we notice that life is constantly presenting us with new information and opportunities for growth. This bears out in enterprise thinking and organizational group work.
If indeed you must be candid, be candid beautifully.
Executive coach – email@example.com