Photo Credit: Armstrong Economics
In a culture that clamors for political correction, how is it that contempt can be so freely expressed? Even rewarded, at times? This is an enigma for me. Contempt at home or in the workplace divides people, often against one another. Like cancer, it can spread if left unchecked…changing people and impacting product.
Having a certain measure of confidence is positive for all of us on a team. It’s freeing to be in relationships with people who have a strong sense of what they bring to the table as well as what others bring. Confidence and humility actually partner well together. When we have an honest understanding of our strengths, we also extend humility as we defer to the strengths of our colleagues.
The problem comes for all of us when confidence shifts into arrogance. Worse yet, when arrogance darkens into contempt. Arrogance is an attitude of thinking so highly of oneself that we tend to put down the thinking and efforts of others. Contempt is similar except the emotions are stronger and more mean-spirited.
Photo Credit: SlideShare
What makes contempt so cancerous in our relationships is that it tends to spread, both internally and externally. When we allow ourselves the luxury of contempt, we grow in our justification of it. It may have started with an unappreciative boss or demanding client, but contempt, unchecked, will inject its poison indiscriminately. We become comfortable with our disdainful opinions of others…at work, in our families, and pretty much toward anyone who crosses or annoys us.Photo Credit: LiveforChristResources
Chris Johnson, CEO, Simplifilm Inc. of Portland, Oregon, wrote a piece confronting contempt as a cancer in the workplace. He offers 5 steps to preventing contempt from shattering our work and our work relationships:
1. Don’t Vindicate Yourself. A customer had an experience they didn’t like. You don’t need to prove if you are right or wrong. That’s not relevant. What’s important is making a judgement: is this worth fixing?
2. Look At The Opportunity. Some people are surly, disrespectful, ungrateful and wrong. Some of them have big jobs. Some people like that have power. Learning to work with these people — without getting drawn in — is a skill that you should have.
3. Always Err on the side of empathy. What are the consequences of being nicer to someone than they deserved? What are the consequences of being meaner? Will too nice of a response to a human ever ruin a career?
4. Cultivate Improvement Bias. When something goes wrong at Simplifilm, there are two components: what do we do with our transaction, and what do we do with our system. For the transaction, we try and fix it with empathy. We believe that we caused it. Because if we caused it we can improve our system.
5. Rethink your filter. Most people say “block out everyone, make customers prove themselves to you.” Being available can be hard. Many filters are vanity in disguise. If you knew the people that answered their personal emails… – Chris Johnson
Contempt like cancer can be smoldering without our awareness. I am generally a positive and empathetic person, but, if I’m honest with myself, there are those in the workplace who don’t experience much compassion from me. It’s an uncomfortable confession to have to make.
As we practice mindfulness in our relationships at work, we hopefully will remember to respond instead of react. We can rein in contempt by refusing to think ill of others, by staying engaged, and by acknowledging none of us get it right every time (exercising humility).
On the old TV sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, Frank, Ray’s father would often make observations that sizzled with sarcasm. One comment remains a part of our family’s lexicon: “People are idiots!” It’s so easy for any of us to look at actions or decisions made by others and shake our heads…until we remember that we all have it in us to do the same. Contempt can be diagnosed…and treated…
…with empathy, compassion, and humility. Not necessarily the coolest or trendiest work (or relationship) processes in our culture…but… What a difference they can make in the tone of our meetings, the depth of our relationships, and the measure of our own character.
So let’s get after it!