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Eliminate We/They

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How we communicate matters. When we model positive and respectful communication, we set the example and expectation for how to interact in our organization. When we practice the opposite approach, we establish a culture of blame. Quint Studer, the founder of Studer Group says, “One of the most damaging characteristics in a company’s culture is called We/They. It can be a silent killer of both performance and culture. It’s difficult to pinpoint, and without proper training, it can run rampant in your organization without a leader or an owner’s knowledge.” When any leader criticizes a senior leader, he or she gains favor with the employees at the expense of the senior leader. Employees begin to lose trust in the direction of the organization. The next time the senior leader needs employees to be responsive, they may resist, which jeopardizes the organization’s ability to achieve its goals.


A We/They culture occurs when someone positions themselves in a positive light by making someone else “the bad guy.” This occurs when there is a situation that may not have a pleasant or appealing outcome and the leader choses to place blame, rather than own the situation and work through a solution. If this is the norm in an organization, people will do this so routinely that it becomes second nature. We/They is often used to gain favor with those who report to us or to have others feel sorry for us. 

Communication using We/They breeds distrust in an organization and its leaders. If you use another person or the organization as an excuse, you hurt your own standing as an employee or leader. This type of culture also reinforces “victimhood.” We/They can cause a complete breakdown in teamwork and significantly reduces mutual respect. It raises anxiety because it leads employees to think leaders are not effective. When leaders model this negative method of communication, they give employees permission to do the same. Communicating in this way slowly destroys any positive steps in performance and culture. We/They is counterproductive and is misaligned with what most companies aspire to achieve through their mission, vision, and values.   

Examples of We/They Include:

  • Well, I wish we could all have raises, but Administration says no.
  • I would have an answer, but I still haven’t heard from…
  • I’ve called human resources 3 times; they never return their calls…
  • That was the supervisor’s decision, not mine…
  • I’m sorry that we have to cut the position, but there’s nothing we can do about it, now.
  • The Board is so tight with our funds…
  • Yeah, we get lots of complaints about _____ (that person, that department…)


Break the We/They Habit

We/They is easy to do and often undetected. Bringing the practice to light and learning how to spot statements that paint others in a negative light is the first step to eliminating We/They from your organization. Model the expectation of eradication by admitting when you We/They throughout the week. The team will respect this open reflection and be more willing to hold themselves accountable.

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