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comment by humanodon
humanodon  ·  962 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Hiring a Chief Diversity Officer Won’t Fix Your Racist Company Culture

Ah, this is something I may be able to support on. Then again, I do have a bias as my degree is in conflict resolution and in particular, workplace conflict. One of my areas of interest is actually organizational silence and it’s related phenomena, gossip.

Eng, to my eye what you describe fits well with what I would frame as “latent conflict”, likely due to essentially, the psychological defense mechanisms of leadership. If we’re thinking about flows of communication, in organizations, these flows tend to be oriented horizontally (among peers) and vertically (between ranks/levels).

The tendency of leadership is that they outwardly want say, an open door policy, but are also keenly aware that an open door means that anyone can come in. Thus, vertical conflict management systems tend to be implemented by those at the top to get information from those below.

Simple, right?

Here’s another simple thing; the human mind strives to maintain a positive self-image, which results in attempts to explain or to justify actions after the fact. In a nutshell, the people at the top want to believe that they are good people (however they define that). Negative feedback threatens that positive self-image and so to protect itself, the mind will subconsciously be motivated to defend.

In most cases, this means that the people at the top say they want feedback, but are actively (though often subconsciously) avoiding it. How? By adding layers, and by controlling the timeline for resolution or management.

Now, the people who aren’t at the top quickly learn this. When people aren’t listened to, they stop talking. In organizations, when legitimate channels of grievance aren’t listened to, people stop using them.

Cue gossip. Not only does this create in-group bonding, it can quickly evolve into a way of those without titles to get things done. Most organizations have informal leaders. Next time you’re in a meeting, pay attention to who is being listened to and who isn’t; the titles might not match up with those who are being listened to.

Now, I’ll freely admit that I hate HR and that this is a bias of mine, but as a consultant, I feel like it’s important ( in the American context anyway) to understand that while there are good HR people out there, by and large, HR exists as the organization’s condom: to keep the organization from getting sued.

I bring this up because you mention that they are listening to you. It may be worth your while to get a clear picture of why. In the event that you may be thinking of leaving, it may be some small comfort for you to know that the real costs of employee turnover are often 1/2 or a full year’s salary to replace and then train the new person, not to mention productivity and opportunity costs.

Anyway, one reason why you might find the situation an analog, is because racism is a form of oppression, and many work practices are forms of oppression too. I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through that, but if you’d like to discuss it more, or if I can send useful materials your way, let me know, because that sounds like it sucks balls.

WanderingEng  ·  961 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thanks, I really appreciate it! What you describe sounds spot-on, except for two things I see differently in my case:

1. Gossip: I don't really hear much gossip, even pre-COVID. Sort of, everyone knows who isn't very good and jokes about it in private. Though I suppose that's gossip. Most of us are engineers and at least a little introverted.

2. HR: In my case I think HR is interested because maximizing efficiency is in the company's interest. I realize maximizing efficiency isn't the same thing as individual happiness or satisfaction, but I think HR is still essentially "on my side." Not that they're not on the side of management, just they may accept my side of the coin.

I've actually done the "who are the group leaders" exercise because fundamentally my complaint is my direct supervisor is not a leader. He's probably the sixth or seventh person I'd think of leading the group after me, two others in our group, my supervisor's boss, and two former group members who took positions in another area (but that we still engage with all the time).

About the other two in my group: one is a maybe. He's the second most senior after me, and he's very capable, but he's fairly quiet in meetings. Not silent, but he never really leads a conversation. The other has only been at the company two years, and prior to being here he was in the military. He spent ~20 years being an officer, and I see the leadership in him. But he's also pretty new to everything we do. He picks it up fast, but he still has a lot to gain before he can lead a discussion.

Which feels like it leaves most of the group leadership to me, but my boss's boss is very clear about only wanting to engage with my boss, not me. My boss's boss and I used to have a good working relationship, but it's really eroded. He hired my boss into the leadership position, and the best I can come up with is he feels he needs to make it work to cover his mistake and feeling like he owes it to my boss. Which is sort of single person gossip, I guess.

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CrazyEyeJoe  ·  961 days ago  ·  link  ·  

This is all interesting stuff, but how would you make use of this knowledge to make yourself heard? It kind of sounds like if the organisation has problems, you can either learn to live with them, or quit your job. Which, to be fair, matches with my experience.

humanodon  ·  960 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Unfortunately, at the individual level there are no boilerplate solutions (or at the team/unit/org level). Generally speaking, businesses who have high employee turnover spend shitloads on recruiting and training to replace, not to mention time lost and opportunity costs, the blow to morale, etc.

Rationally speaking, these losses would be expected to curb behaviors that result in turnover, but they tend not to, at least not in the US. The work culture here is so focused on "efficiency" and minimizing costs that it tends to create tunnel vision, but since most other successful businesses also have tunnel vision, people tend not to see it as a problem.

Essentially, if you are in a conflict averse work environment, which is most organizations, then being heard is not as in the cards as one might hope. Part of the issue on that front is that people don't have the resilience or training to engage in conflict productively. That said, when conflict is engaged in productively, it's almost never recognized as conflict at all.

People often voice the need for greater training in conflict management but rarely engage in it, at least in part because many people are uncomfortable with it, which makes practice tough. Lack of practice leads to a lack of skill and—oh look! Here we are, back at square 1.

Where this knowledge can be useful for the lay-person, is in determining whether or not an organization might be a good fit to work in. To answer your question explicitly, you can't make yourself be heard unless the other party is willing to listen. When that occurs at work, it kind of depends on what you value.

CrazyEyeJoe  ·  959 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Agreed, it's best to try to find an organisation that fits with your personality. Ironically, it's almost impossible to understand a company's culture before actually working there. And beyond that, I believe it's hard to find companies that deviate much from the mean anyway.

I recently moved from the UK to Norway. This is my first job in Norway, so I'm not sure how well it represents Norwegian work culture in general, but immediately I was struck by how much more agency I'm given. It feels like I'm finally being trusted to be a professional, instead of just some guy who's given tasks to do.

I might have had some hints about this at the interview, but to be honest I didn't really grasp it. In the UK I worked at three very different companies, but in all cases it was much more of a pyramidal decision structure. I don't think a company like this exists in the UK.

humanodon  ·  959 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I think that's so true of so many things. In the US context, what you're talking about also applies to university; how can we expect literal children to choose for themselves the path that will lead them to meaning and financial independence, when they don't have the life experience to really know what they need or want?

In terms of your move to Norway, I'm not very surprised to hear that your experience is so different. Both the UK and the US tend to have very large organizations with a great deal of what I would term, "power distance". For example, here in many organizations (large or small) the people at the top, never meet the people at the bottom, or even in the middle. Different levels tend not to interact with one another much, except through very established channels and contexts.

Here's a real shocker: these kinds of organizations tend to have less potential for upward mobility and as organizations tend to reflect the communities and populations that they're embedded in, they also tend to reflect societal dynamics. In societies with very little social mobility (like the US) we see less internal promotion and more bringing in upper level people from the outside. Further, "chain of command" type org structures tend to have notably higher rates in turnover, which means that they spend a shitload on hiring and trying to establish pipelines to draw on talent. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure, for whatever reasons, the customer keeps demanding the cure and wondering why they can't cut costs.

It's not healthy.