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After the meeting John came up to Bob in the break room and immediately started commenting on Sally’s attitude during the meeting. “ Did you see how she dismissed your opinion? She totally ran over you! I don’t know about you but I would be really upset.”
A very common scenario, isn’t it? Co-workers getting together and one party immediately starting to gossip or comment on someone they know mutually. In a regular organization where Rules and Policies dictate behavior there’s little that can be done to prevent these toxic situations. Rules and Policies generally are common and institutional. They fill pages and pages of manuals but are never really tailored toward a special shared understanding or experience and they can be unrealistic to apply. Rules are frequently discussed after there is a violation and they are treated as a “private” matter with the violator. They are used as tools for authorities to “ correct “ a behavior, they can be interpreted in different ways and to emphasize the power of the authorities for setting boundaries. Rules and Policies simply don’t encourage any transformation in the individuals working together neither do they create any sense of camaraderie in an organization.
Consider different environments where you interact with others. What are some of the written rules? How often and how seriously are they being followed? What would be a better way of setting a rule?
Gratefully Bob and John work in an organization that instead of Rules and Policies all employees have come to Common Agreements. As soon as Bob hears what John has to say, he gently reminds him that they have come to a Common Agreement about discussing issues. Based on that Common Agreement John has to go directly to Sally and discuss his impression of Sally’s behavior with her. The conversation is directed to a different topic gently. No one gets hurt, no toxic thoughts are exchanged about someone who is not even present, the Common Agreement is re-enforced and John is slightly transformed in regards to dealing with a problem and treating co-workers.
Establishing language of Common Agreements is an unusual and rare culture that is only possible through intentional leadership. Using language of Common Agreements creates organizational integrity and supports a shared understanding of meaning and experiences where no one would feel trapped, limited or burdened. This language is created through collaboration and develops each individuals understanding of the reasons the agreement was put in place as well as drawing a clear picture of why the agreement should not be violated. In case of a violation, the subject can be discussed publicly for everyone’s learning. Peers feel supported by the language of Common Agreement since everyone has been actively involved in creating it. Last but surely not the least, language of Common Agreement is transformational both for the individual and for the organization.
Are there any Common Agreements created in your work environment? How are they affecting individuals vs Rules and Policies? Can you take one of the Rules and open is to discussion in your organization to create a Common Agreement instead?
The Sixth step in Language of Leadership is moving from the language of Rules and Policies to the Language of Common Agreements. This step is a part of building the social language. It certainly requires leaders that are aware, integral and intentional.
If you are curious to learn more refer to Seven Languages of Transformation by Dr Kegan & Lahey.