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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 491

Estimated reading time:  3:45 minutes



One of the fundamental challenges we face is our own bias to in-group vs. out-group in our minds. We tend to default in our thinking to giving too much credence and even forgiveness of foibles and follies to the people in our in-group and assign much deeper requirements of strengths and “goodness” to the people in our out-group. It is very difficult then for the people who are “out-group” to us to even be listened to, let alone appreciated. We tend then to look at these ‘other’ people as objects rather than subjects. People in our out-group are easily dismissed, or their actions or problems dismissed as ‘of their own making.’ People in our in-group are understood, or protected for doing the same thing; ‘it wasn’t their fault’, ‘they were forced into it,’ ‘they made a mistake.’ 


There are any number of examples of this kind of in-group and out-group thinking; for example, the responses of  wealthier people (many of whom might well have addictions to drugs like caffeine and alcohol), being quick to ignore the plight and tragedy of poorer people who are addicted to different stimulants or painkillers.  And it shows up in our workplaces with a striking frequency. The executive in-group, the labour in-group, the cliques that form within departments, sales sees production as the out-group, engineers see sales as the out-group. For the most part, we can live quite comfortably together, with little flareups occurring between the groups. However, we can begin, very quickly to turn people in the out-group into objects who need to be “dealt with” rather than fellow humans and colleagues with whom we work.


Here are three suggestions for staying focused on the ‘subjects’ with whom you work, even in other departments, or areas of your work:


  1. As much as possible use first names of individuals to describe your observations about people in other groups in your workplace; ‘Dave is doing xyz’ rather than ‘they are doing xyz’.
  2. Reach out and connect with people who are lower in the hierarchy than you. Extend your hand if you do not know them and say hello, with your name, even if they likely know it. 
  3. Listen carefully in meetings, even with the folks who are disagreeing. It means a lot to the whole group if you can respond to their comments by paraphrasing what they have just said, and acknowledge their point. For example, ‘thanks Jean, your point as I heard it is xyz. Thanks for naming it. We have chosen to go in a different direction, but we did consider your point in the our decision making.’ (Obviously you want to be telling the truth here.)



May this week be filled with mitigating out-group flare ups.