What Stories Are Floating Around Your Workplace?

by Aug 12, 2021

Last week we wrote about the internal and external dialogue one might have when considering whether to report bad behavior. It had us thinking about what might have been going through the minds of anyone employed in Cuomo’s office, as they witnessed or were told about inappropriate behavior from one of the most powerful men in the country. Were they afraid to be a whistleblower, afraid of retaliation, afraid of losing their jobs, afraid of the wrath whistleblowers so often face?

Speaking up takes immense amounts of courage and we need more people to do so. Or maybe you’re ready, but your organization isn’t. As Melissa Gira Grant noted in her NY Times opinion piece this week, “Andrew Cuomo Didn’t Do This Alone”.
For example, there are allegations that Cuomo’s senior staff discussed discrediting the first brave woman to come forward. Can you imagine participating in that conversation? Now, to date, 11 more have spoken up.
Indeed, Cuomo didn’t do this alone. He fostered a work environment that was riddled with intimidation and retaliation, and of course others followed suit. It became the fabric of the culture in the Governor’s office, and that behavior was normalized along with the excuses for it. That narrative, the one that Cuomo and many other people who worked there told themselves, worked for years – until it didn’t.
We could go on about harassment prevention training, coaching abrasive leaders, and organizational culture change (and we will at the end of this blog post), but a good lesson learned is to stop and think about the narratives you tell yourself and your peers about your workplace.
The reality of your workplace is socially constructed, and it develops through interactions with others. So, here’s an exercise to help you understand the socially constructed reality at your workplace, and what narratives need to change.
Step 1. Journal (i.e., write narratives) about your workplace, both good and bad. You could even run an exercise with your team to discuss what narratives are floating around your workplace. Here are some brainstorming questions to get you started:
  1. What are the stories we tell about our history? (e.g., how we started, how far we’ve come, the owner’s personality, that time the COO did that one thing that everyone still talks about)
  2. What are the stories we tell about clients? (e.g., Do we celebrate them or complain about them? What client stories do we tell?)
  3. What are the stories we tell about our employees? (e.g., the one person in IT who seems frustrated all the time, the story about that one employee who told inappropriate jokes, the one employee who’s clearly the CEO’s favorite)
Step 2. Marinate in the stories to see what you can learn from them, and where you need to consciously focus on changing them. Here are some more brainstorming questions:
  1. How long has the narrative been told? How has it morphed over time?
  2. What outcomes do these narratives present, both good and bad?
  3. What is their impact on me personally and professionally, on others, on customers, and on the organization?
  4. Where did these narratives originate from?
  5. Do others share these same narratives? Who, and what do we do now that we’ve recognized it?
  6. How can we lean into the good stories, and start changing the negative ones?
Don’t wait to take a good hard look at the culture of your organization. The stories people tell influence your culture in a big way. Uncover those stories, analyze them, and determine how to use them or change them, and that’s a big giant step towards a positive work culture.

About Catherine Mattice Zundel

Catherine Mattice Zundel, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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