Twenty three people sitting around a table, everyone getting worked up about the same thing. Voices are raised. Anger is palpable. People are feeling good that other people are feeling good about the same thing that they are feeling good about. There’s just one problem. Almost no one really knew what they were getting worked up about. As the facilitator began to understand and clarify things through objective questioning, what once were passionate, cocksure thoughts and feelings quickly went by the wayside. People found it difficult to defend their beliefs without the benefit of groupthink.
In today’s divisive times, it has become popular and fashionable to join the movement or lean in to the news topics of the day without being fully informed. This is true regardless of what side of a particular topic we are on. If CNN posts an article about something and we lean more democrat or liberal, it can be too easy to lean in to the content, share our thoughts and feelings, and chide others who don’t share them. When Sean Hannity gets animated about something on Fox News, relating to his thoughts and feelings before spreading them like wildfire to whomever will listen is instinctual for some.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with having views. The question is, how informed are our views and could we defend them if challenged to do so? More on this later.
Culture is, in its simplest form, collective regard and social norms. It is what the collective values and believes, how the collective behaves. The $20,000 question is, what informs our beliefs and behaviors?
When I teach culture facilitation, one of the key focus areas is informed expression.
To put this idea into perspective, when we see, think, or hear something, we can react in one of two ways.
Way 1 — Uninformed Expression. This is where we automatically emote without practicing basic aspects of emotional intelligence. We feel a certain way and those feelings are expressed instantaneously.
Way 2 — Informed Expression. This is where we wait to emote until we have gone through some impulse control, self-awareness, empathy, optimism, and flexibility of thought. The first and last steps are the most important. Otherwise, our emotions are based on nothing more than raw impulse and we will refuse to see or find different things to challenge our base biases and beliefs.
To be clear, our emotions can be happy, sad, angry, or ecstatic — it is not always about emoting in a negative way. The root question we all need to ask ourselves is, are we thinking about where our beliefs and behaviors come from, particularly before we decide that they are right and share them with the world.
When you see a headline about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, how do you react? Do you read it first? After reading it, do you seek out additional information to get a broader understanding of the content within it? Do you share it on social media and give your thoughts about it? Are the answers to these questions dependent on how you feel about her already and how the headline confirms or challenges your feelings?
When you hear a colleauge talking negatively about your work environment, what do you do? Listen but not intervene? Pile on other negative things? Challenge their thoughts?
When you are talking to someone about something you believe, how easy is it for you to stay on point with those beliefs, even as they are being constructively challenged in real time?
Not a fan of Donald J. Trump? Okay. Does that mean that everything you read or hear about him is true? Of course not. But read we do, stew we do, and share we do. But what are we sharing?
I often get asked if there is a silver bullet or that one solution that is more important than any other when it comes to understanding and resolving culture concerns. My response is always two-fold. For starters, we must get to the root issue of whatever culture issues are occuring. Focusing on symptoms will prove to be a non-starter. Second, the only way to get to the root issue is to understand those issues beyond peoples initial words and emotions. When people decry poor leadership, poor communication, poor accountability, and other common complaints, there is often some truth to them. However, objective questioning will always unearth rampant generalizations, parroting, and other realities that indicate a culture that was amplified by groupthink and misinformation.
I once had an employee say something to the effect of “we were all at the same Town Hall. We heard the indifference in our leadership”. As he was talking, several people nodded their head in agreement. A few people even clapped. I then asked each person to write down 2–3 things that they heard leadership say that informed their opinion that leadership was indifferent. At the end of the exercise:
- 1/3 of the employees wrote nothing down because they could not think of anything specific.
- There were 57 total ‘things’ across the remaining 2/3rds of the workforce. All of them were read out loud with no attribution to who wrote them.
- Only 18 of the ‘things’ written down were the same or similar.
- The other 39 ‘things’ were very broad and challenged by the students with regards to whether they were actually said by the leadership.
After the exercise, I was asked by one of the employees something to the effect of “does this mean you’re not going to do anything about our leadership concerns?” To which I replied, “based on the results from the exercise, are we confident that we know the substance and extent of the concerns?” Not only did she agree that things were murky — the rest of the group did as well. We eventually discovered and worked on some leadership challenges but not before they erased their preconceived notions that had little to no supporting evidence.
On a broader societal scale, we have beliefs and they are rampant. White men are angry. Cops are racist. Women’s movements are killing the family. AOC is crazy. Republicans hate poor people. Immigrants are criminals. Hilary is crooked. Trump is hateful. CNN is biased. Fox News is biased. Leaders don’t care. Millennials are entitled.
Like Jack Johnson, I could go on and on. Instead, I will leave you with a couple questions, a thought, and a plea.
Question: No matter what you believe, are your beliefs informed or uninformed? Be honest with yourself. Where do your beliefs come from and how vetted are they?
Thought: When uninformed expression moves from a person to a group of people, the Negative Culture Cycle is born. We are in a Negative Culture Cycle today and it has spread like a disease. The only way to stop it is to recognize what it is, what our role is in continuing it, and stop the madness.
Plea: Think for yourself. Understand your beliefs and where they come from. Don’t join the echochamber just to satisfy your already existing beliefs and values. Please. Thank you.