Questionable to Credible

When we’re exposed to certain situations, we’re bound to have differences of opinion. On a team, opinions come from different perspectives and great teams ensure that each are valued. However, leaning too far in one direction by disregarding any evidence that speaks to the contrary, is damaging.

Opinions Through Facts

Let’s be clear, facts and opinions are dichotomous. Facts is the perceived reality while opinions are interpretations of that reality. Interpretations require information that can be obtained through the absurd amount of sources in today’s world.

At times we might believe that the source of those facts lacks credibility. In a workplace, it might be rumors or misinterpreted top-down information. Outside of work, media outlets likely come to mind. We might view the source as biased, filtered, and censored and cherry picking information within that source is worse altogether. We can’t discredit information against us and credit information in support of us simultaneously. We are in effect then, filtering sources through our own biases and by doing so we discredit ourselves for the very same reason we decided the source was unreliable!

Leading into Common Ground

As a leader that should hear out varying opinions, we must be aware of this pitfall. To pull ourselves and teams out, repetitiveness and probability are needed to dilute biases. Multiple matching sources yields higher credibility. Misinterpreted information becomes clear when reviewed over and over. Secondly, we can revert to statistics by asking a simple question: “What are the chances?” Rumors are squashed when one considers its likelihood is close to 10%.

When different opinions based on individual’s perceived realities become a debate topic, even healthy debates, it’s best to validate sources and work to remove biases through repetitiveness and probability.

What Do You Do?

Your career or job shouldn’t be your identity. Characterizing ourselves as such assigns too much value to an external and temporary source. If I identify with being a school teacher, I am confined by the rules that govern it. I am someone who teaches children in a school setting. A firefighter fights fire, a chef cooks, a leader motivates, an accountant reconciles accounts. Most jobs are quite literal in what they do and our self-worth can be strongly tied to it. When we leave, we feel like we’re losing a bit of ourselves too.

True identity lies not in the what but the why. The emotional stimulus elicited from performing said job is the underlying persona of who we want to be. You find fulfillment in educating the next generation and because of that, your job is a school teacher. You find satisfaction in creating delightful food and because of that, your job is a chef. My passion is to inspire others to Show Up and because of that, my job is a leader.

Aristotle told us “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” So the next time someone asks “What do you do?” Tell them your why, not the what. The more we say it, the more we remind ourselves, the more we live it out.

We Need More ‘Me’ Days

Physical injuries take time to heal. When we get hurt, there is well documented protocol of what to do and what not to do. There is an expectation of the recovery timeline and with proper support and rehabilitation, it can be improved. A broken arm takes three months, a twisted ankle three weeks. These are concrete ailments that people can understand and accept.

How about a fracture of the mind? Where is the step-by-step to emotional healing? Our brains, a complex organ, is unique to us as is our fingerprints. There is no standard timeline, no set of rules dictating right to wrong, no model for comparison. Regardless, we should have as much understanding for these emotional setbacks that we do physical yet our social acceptability for the former is abysmal.

Showing Up sometimes is staying away in order to come back stronger the next day.

Outdoor Observations

That’s a crab. His name is Bernard. We met him on a recent trip to the beach for some relaxation and downtime. He captured our attention as he was quietly digging a hole in the sand beside us. We’d watch as he disappeared below, then tip-toe to the surface, checking to make sure no one was watching, and then fling a clawful of sand to the side. What held my attention to Bernard was not so much that it was humorous – it certainly was but the novelty of it faded long before my gaze did – but the mere simplicity of observation.

Stretched out on a beach, I was allowed to observe, to not have my attention pulled involuntarily. Free to meander mindlessly and envision endlessly. For me, that type of disconnect isn’t restricted to only shorelines. Being in nature, wherever, has always put me in a deeper connection with not only the external environment, but also my greenhouse of emotions.

Nature Heals

Turns out, I’m not alone in that a little slice of nature benefits the mind. Research suggests that children who grew up with more green space within their local area, have a decreased chance of developing psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and OCD later in life even after adjusting for family history and socioeconomic factors. “Green space” allows greater opportunities for physical activities, social interactions, and quiet getaways. It makes sense that exercise, human connection, removal of technology, and avoiding the constant bustle of a city leads to improved mental health and awareness.

I could have been part of this study. My affection with the outdoors undoubtedly stems from my childhood. I lived outside. From the time it was acceptable to knock on my friends door in the morning to the time the lamp posts came on, I was biking, playing sports, on a trampoline, in the woods, or lounging with friends. Now older, green space is my personal window to self-awareness.

Go Green

Much like the beach, it is an opportunity to CHOOSE my focus. Whether it is reflection on the past or preparing for the future, the outdoors offers physical and mental breathing room. The ability to stretch the legs and the mind concurrently is freeing. Watching Bernard digging a hole is equally carefree and transfixing.

This introvert prefers going out(side). In a year where outside is publicly safer it is also psychologically safer. We all have temporary stress or anxiety and sun, fresh air, and greenery are natural and free medicines. If your walls are seemingly getting closer, get rid of them. If your mind is noisy, offset it with trees whistling, wildlife whispering. If your world is overrun with digital colors, limit the spectrum to natural green.

New Rules of the Blame Game

When situations go awry, we search for reasons why and direct, maybe even obvious, causes feel more rewarding than interconnected and complex ones. At times, we might apply an obvious cause to a complex situation. When we do, one of the easiest causes is someone else. Human infallibility is fickle. When we decide we’re right, all others are suddenly wrong with little evidence for the contrary. All others are suddenly blameworthy.

Situation Over Character

When we point at someone else, we play the absolved. We attempt to remove ourselves from all participation so that we can’t be the problem. Unfortunately, it also means then we’re not the solution. Subscribing to this mentality can quickly turn our blame into more than what it should be as blame is a prerequisite to judgement. We extrapolate our blame from the particular situation and apply it towards the person, unfairly and disproportionately characterizing them. News flash – being at fault doesn’t equal faulty character.

Let’s say you’re on a team overloaded with projects and another team member makes a crucial error that ultimately you’ll have to resolve. What can play out in our heads is this:

“Oh no, Lucy sent the wrong list of clients to the team to request information from.
I’m already so far behind on my projects and this is just another thing I have to fix.
How could she have been so careless? She can be so lazy!”

Unfairly characterizing is a justification for your own blame. Lucy is lazy and therefore, it wouldn’t be out of character for her to mess up like this. This way, when you dole out blame, you believe it to be just and fair.

Positive Blame

You’ve heard that blaming isn’t kind and that “it’s no ones fault.” There are few circumstances where that is fact. Natural disasters for example, but at best it is a small gesture people say when something does in fact go wrong to make us feel better. In reality, across everything that could go wrong, how often is truly no one at fault? A miscommunication between co-workers leads to fire drills. A disagreement between loved ones feels like a tornado tore through the house. In both situations, there is fault to be had.

Blame though, can be productive with the proper mindset. It can actually strengthen relationships, provide teams clarity of roles, and reverse assumptions. Traditionally we think of blame as rude and demoralizing and on the receiving end, it’s belittling and upsetting. It’s tough to not feel a tinge of regret, even when you don’t care too much for the accuser. The path towards better blame is two-fold.

Division of Blame

To begin with, blame becomes manageable if it is split. I recently heard a story of a group of co-workers that had reached the boiling point on a situation where no one seemed to be listening or working to improve. It culminated in a large meeting that was honest, emotional, and necessary for them to ever move forward. While I was listening to them recount the past events, from my view, it seemed as though all of the blame was being put towards one individual. They weren’t being direct in their words, “It was Mark’s fault,” but instead it came through as should haves.

“Mark should have done this.”
“Mark should have told us earlier.”

In these situations, I find it an incredible oversight to put all the blame in one basket. The entire fallout of a team is not on the shoulders of Mark. He likely played a major role but I’d venture not 100%. What if instead we assign Mark 60% of the blame so as to ensure he remains the majority but now, there is opportunity across the whole team.

Most importantly, there is opportunity for yourself. How much is on me? 20%? 30%? We’re generally resistant to blame ourselves as we view it as an all or nothing but you’ll find it more palatable to blame yourself for only a fraction of the situation.

Party of Two

Let’s for a moment step outside of a team dynamic and apply splitting blame within a relationship of two where you’re forced to bear some blame. Keep in mind this isn’t an exercise of self-loathing but self-awareness and perception. Perceptions of just how much percentage one owns as your estimate might be very different than theirs. This example happened not too ago between my wife and I…

Normally, I handle the bills but the date slipped past. Prior to that date, while my wife was re-organizing, she moved this particular bill to another area in the house. Since I was looking in the normal location for bills, this could have attributed to my forgetfulness. During our conversation, I claimed 80% blame. My defense was the remaining was hers on account of the relocation. From my wife’s point of view or, based on her perception, she believes it should be 95/5% split.

The difference? She remembers telling me that she did in fact move the bill. I clearly forgot that tidbit as well and accepted her proposal. The other 5% that was hers? We both know I have a tendency of a one-track mind. Great for focusing, so long as I’m focusing on the right things. When she told me, I was distracted by my own task at hand. Rather than assuming I heard and understood, she could have taken the extra time to confirm.

A Cautionary Tale

A note in language. Relationships are unique and need to be handled as such. Actually conferring different percentages of blame might be too forthcoming. Between my wife and I it works. The words and actions are meaningful but the tone of percentages can be playful banter. This isn’t going to work the same in teams. The goal of assigning percentages is to create space for self-awareness meaning it can be done without saying a word.

Don’t start splitting blame if not everyone is aware of the intent. It will backfire and people will get defensive and argumentative. Having this type of candid conversation requires each person to be willing to accept and own their part and be able to view it as solutions-based conversation, not a scapegoat from their own involvement.

From Blame to Ownership

As revealing as it is to split the blame positively, the word still has its negative connotation and can feel like an attack even if it only for a small percentage. So instead of looking around the room and placing blame, let’s place ownership. Mark owned doing what he was supposed to. Mark owned telling his team earlier. How much ownership can I take for the missed bill?

Here’s the second part of better blame (ownership). The admission of it. How do we get to a place where no one has to pry ownership out of others but for each person to be forthcoming with it? As the leader of a team, it is our responsibility to create an environment where people feel safe enough to present such admissions. To show you’re serious in that effort, take the first step. How would our story of Mark been different if it were his own admission of ownership served with a side of opportunity?

“I should have done this. I’ll remember to do so going forward but I might need reminders.”
“I should have told everyone sooner. How best does everyone want this to be communicated?”

After hearing admissions like this, the team is going to feel more confident in the future knowing that there are no consequences to admitting ownership and in fact it is expected. From our story, Mark still holds majority ownership but who else at the table owned a piece? If Mark owned keeping everyone involved but missed the mark, did anyone ask? Or did everyone just assume things were happening predicated on no news is good news. Would Mark had gladly given up the information if one person posed the question?

Before you rebuttal with “It’s not my job to do his,” I understand how you feel, I’m guilty of it too, and you’re right in the broad sense. However, is it not your job to ask or speak up for the things you want and need that directly impact you? There is shared space between someone else’s responsibility and your responsibility. That space is where blame turns to ownership.

Show Up

Simon Sinek has said before “A leader should not take credit when things go right if they are not willing to accept responsibility when things go wrong.” When it comes to ownership, the same principle applies. A leader should not take ownership when things go right if they are not willing to accept ownership when things go wrong. This means being the first to openly admit it. This means guiding the team through “What could we have done better?” to better split up ownership. This means going forth and owning it.