A recent headline in The New York Times over an article discussing a national political issue contained a familiar phrase from our childhood, “They started it”.
The March 31, 2017 article written by Matt Flegenheimer provided the equally familiar context: “And each party’s justification [for its position] can often be summarized with a schoolyard classic: ‘they started it.’”.
This is also known on playgrounds as “tit for tat”, i.e., when we have been wronged we return the wrong. Unfortunately, this happens all too often in arenas other than politics.
I once assumed leadership of an organization which had tense relationships with its most important internal client. The managers in our organization felt disrespected, blamed, and misrepresented . . . and they were responding in kind.
I instituted a unilateral “cease-fire” and met with my counterpart in the client organization. That cease-fire seemed very one-sided initially but I kept reminding our leaders that we would respond to inappropriate behavior based on who we were (people of integrity) not on the behavior we were seeing.
I practically swore the leaders to secrecy on the use of the phrase but to illustrate my expectations in more understandable terms I told them “somebody has to be the adult.” To my chagrin (I didn’t want to create a lasting impression of our clients as childish), the managers adopted the phrase among themselves as a reminder to fight disrespect with integrity not with even more disrespect.
I would love to say that our consistent show of respect resulted in changed behaviors but that would be only partially true. The improved performance of our organization likely had as much impact on our clients as our improved behavior.
However, I am happy to say that the consistent show of respect (adult behavior if you will) did have a big impact on our organization. It was a critical part, in my opinion, of raising the level of self-respect in the organization which led to more confidence which, in turn, contributed to a more assertive display of the groups’ collective talents.
For example, rather than wait for (frustrated) clients to bring us problems to solve we began to proactively offer process improvements. And we began to view their success as our success.
Yet another benefit of adult behavior 😊.
Please send me a note via the contact form if you’ve ever resisted the temptation to play tit for tat. I would love to know the results. As a thank you, I will send you an excerpt from my book, Transforming: The Power of Leading from Identity.