Let’s Not Be Jerks, Ok?

With all that is going on in the world, I am totally overwhelmed by all sorts of social media telling me what to do, what not to do, how to act, how not to act…etc. I feel frustrated and helpless and disgusted by what is happening. And from what I’ve read, so do you.

While I know I cannot solve the larger issues on my own, I was thinking: As leaders, and as people, what can we do to create more space, open up dialogue and exhibit empathy to our employees, families and friends?

I have an idea: As author David Cottrell says, Don’t Be a Jerk

How can you NOT be a jerk?

Know that microinequities exist, and we are all guilty of them.
The EW Group defines microinequities as “…tiny, often unconscious gestures, facial expressions, postures, words and tone of voice that can influence how included (or not included) the people around us feel”. It may be related to hair color, religion, socioeconomic status or a host of other things that we perceive in others. Examples include having a boss who says good morning to everyone but one person, or a leader who never looks a team member in the eye. It could also be that neighbor you don’t say hi to. These are small actions that are hard to call out, but they are damaging.

Guess what people: we are all guilty of these. Our biases are ingrained and extremely hard to identify and eliminate. The NeuroLeadership Institute (my go-to for everything brain-based) describes the 5 biggest biases that affect decision-making and explains that without biases, we would’ve never learned NOT to play with fire. Our brain is wired to think a certain way; it is unconscious.

Legally, having biases is not the issue – it’s acting on them, which is called discrimination. But biases may be keeping you from having interesting, enlightening, and diverse conversations. Pay attention to your actions – it’s true, they speak louder than words.

Shut up and listen.
Creating a safe place for your team (and peers, and managers, and family members) to come and share their concerns is critical to getting a pulse on the dynamics and norms you and others have created. At work, how often do you meet with each team members? What about skip-level meetings? Use these interactions to solicit feedback; what is on their minds and what would help them feel more included? Then, communicate back what you plan to do about it. Data with no action is disempowering and disengaging.

Understand that “fair” doesn’t always mean equal.
The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator demonstrates this truism. Some people (Thinkers) see fairness = constancy. Treat everyone the same. The opposite style, “Feelers”, emphasize and consider the personal situations and needs of the people involved in the decision. So the next time you make a decision using fairness as a criteria, think about what that means to the people in your life. I bet it’s not consistent.

Not being a jerk makes business sense. Harvard Business Review says teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high quality decisions and 29% more likely to behave collaboratively. It also cuts absenteeism, as an improvement in the perception of inclusion increases work attendance.

So, let’s embrace a no jerk policy