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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.

COMMUNICATION THAT CAUSES MISALIGNMENT

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…)

ELIMINATE WE/THEY IN 4 STEPS

Use every opportunity to replace We/They with Ownership:

Instead of We/TheyTry Using Ownership

Let me run it by my boss.

Let me research that and get back to you. I’ll be back in touch when I have the answer.

I would if I could, but they won’t let me.

I would have to say no because, as a team, we have decided to prioritize ___ as the best way to achieve our goals.

I would have an answer, but I still haven’t heard from ____.

I apologize that I have not gotten you an answer. I recommit to getting you an answer and I ask that you email me by Friday if I have not done so.

Script specific talking points when communicating about challenging situations. 

  • Be transparent and accurate in communication. Start with why, then communicate what and how.
  • Eliminate blaming words. Scripting communication will promote thoughtful responses.
  • Remind others to turn a negative statement into a positive statement in conversations with others.

Seek first to understand rather than to be understood. 

  • Take the approach of walking in someone else shoes before placing blame about an issue or situation.
  • Practicing this approach models for others what right looks like.
  • Reflection and understanding reduces stress and anxiety about the situation and moves you toward a productive resolution.

Visualize that your supervisor is in your back pocket.

  • Say and do what is right, especially when no one is looking.

Tip

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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