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How To Fight Terrorism In The Workplace

by T. T. Michell

They may not kill people, but certain ill-conceived actions, whether by co-workers or by management and whether deliberate or not, could be the death blow for productivity, morale and the free flow of ideas.

I hate terrorists. I hate the concept of terrorism, I hate the acts of terrorism, and I hate the results of terrorism. There's nothing positive that can ever be attained through acts of terrorism in any way, shape, or form.

Now, when I mention the word terrorism, every person reading this immediately thinks of what's going on in the outside world today—in most cases, in some distant country.

What most people don't think of, though, are the acts of "terrorism" that happen every day in the regular workplace.

Everyday Examples

What do I mean? Though no one dies through these types of acts, here are some examples of what I'm referring to as "business terrorism":

1. Someone sabotaging a project intentionally so it will fail.
2. Someone talking badly about another person.
3. Someone passing information along to sources who don't need to know it.
4. Someone trying to work on projects they don't have enough knowledge on.
5. Someone passing along bad or incomplete information.
6. Someone taking credit for another person's work and ideas.

The problem with issues of this sort are that, intentional or not, they bring down the efficiency and camaraderie of the workplace. Free ideas can't flow if someone is clogging the pipeline, for whatever reason.

Very few positive accomplishments can be attained because there's no sense of cooperation, and almost no one cares whether achievements have been made or not. There's a general sense of entitlement, without any real commitment to success.

Most Insidious Of All...

The most insidious thing about this type of terrorism is that it might be fostered, knowingly or unknowingly, by the manager or supervisor.

Management can't only be concerned with product and process; management needs to be concerned about people. Bad management will allow employees to fail in more ways than one; good management, though it probably can't totally stop terrorism, can minimize it and its effects drastically.

Let's face this one fact first; terrorism can never be totally eliminated. If someone is totally committed to ruining you and your life, there's little you can do except to get rid of that person.

But there are no guarantees that the next person you hire will be better; there aren't even guarantees that the terrorism bug hasn't already been passed on to someone else already working for you.

As an example, you have one employee who routinely talks badly about management to another employee who's always believed everything that person says. Management learns about this employee and terminates them; suddenly, the newer employee feels that the proof has just been shown to them, and now they have to take actions to "protect" themselves.

Let's look at the six examples I used above, taken in reverse order, to see what we can do to help alleviate some of the concerns when they occur.

6. Someone taking credit for another person's work and ideas

If you're a co-worker and taking credit for someone else's work, you're earning payback points that are going to mark your time at any company you work for. If you're management, it should be considered almost criminal, in my opinion.

Every person needs to be accountable for themselves, and if you're stealing from someone else, it'll only be a matter of time before you're discovered. Long before that, though, you'll notice the effects. People will not want to work with you; employees will not come to you with ideas to help the department or the company.

Sooner or later, you'll be forced to come up with your own ideas anyway, and if you've had no practice at it, you're not going to survive long.

5. Someone passing along bad or incomplete information

No one knows everything, but many people feel they should always have an answer to whatever question they're asked.

I've worked with other consultants who have said that you shouldn't ever tell a client you don't know something, because they'll lose confidence in you. I've always said that if I don't own up to something and it's wrong later on, not only will I have lost their confidence, but they'll pass that on to others and I'll lose business overall.

If you're a manager and you give your employees the wrong answer, you have no one to fault but yourself. Most of the time it's easy to find the correct answers; it only takes a little bit of effort. As a co-worker, if you're giving information out that you really aren't sure of, you're not doing anyone favors.

Remember, what goes around comes around, and you can be sure that you'll get bad information back later on, possibly as a result of what you passed on initially.

4. Someone trying to work on projects they don't have enough knowledge on

Since I already said no one knows everything, this time I'll say that not everyone can do everything. I like to think of myself as a fairly smart guy, but I know nothing about cars. When I go under the hood, I'm as likely to be checking the transmission fluid as I am in checking the oil level.

In business, many managers assume that because they've given some information to their employees that it's fully understood. Quite often, that's not the case.

Whereas I'm not saying that one should treat employees as if they're in first grade, I will say that many times employees will not come to you, if you haven't fostered an open environment, and let you know when they don't know something.

I worked with a supervisor many years ago who said that she only said something once, and she expected you to know it. That supervisor better be glad she had me along, because she wasn't the best educator in the world, and quite often others came to me asking for more clarification because they were intimidated by her.

If you want things done right, you'd better verify that everyone fully understands what you're saying.

3. Someone passing information along to sources who don't need to know it

Since I do much work with healthcare entities, privacy is a very big thing. Basically, I'm privy at times to confidential information, and if I divulge some of it, even in general conversation, I could open myself up to major fines.

In business, there are separation of duties at times for a reason. Usually, if one department knows something, others in another department may not know it. In some situations, it's information that doesn't need to be shared.

There's also something called "intellectual property", which means that divulging company information to people outside the organization may be illegal; it could easily be damaging, especially if the person you're talking to is in the same field.

As a manager, it's up to you to help employees determine what can be shared and what can't be shared, because you're the one who's going to be held responsible, whether it was by accident or not. As an employee, you need to use great discretion in who you're talking to about company business, what you're actually saying, and why you're saying it in the first place.

2. Someone talking badly about another person

We'll face the fact that not everyone likes everyone else in this world. We'll also own up to the fact that when people are upset, if they have someone to talk to they inevitably will. That's human nature, and there's nothing that can be done about it.

However, outside of those particular extraordinary events, you have those people who will just talk about someone else because they have to find ways of building themselves up. They'll make up a lot of it, or expand any perceived negativity they've ever heard about someone and spread it around.

Sometimes it just might be fostered; if you're a bad manager or co-worker, you're going to get talked about. Many people will take what they hear about you at face value if they don't know you all that well, and if it's negative, that's not good for you or the workplace.

It's always up to each individual to determine how they want people to perceive them, and if you treat people right, or hold others accountable for treating people right, then you'll garner nothing but positive feelings.

1. Someone sabotaging a project intentionally so it will fail

You only have two ways to fight this sort of thing.

One, you have to try to know the people you assign to a project, or the people you work with on a project. Two, you have to hold yourself accountable for not only your portion of the project, but every other person's portion of the project.

If you're working in an open environment, you'll know better how things are going, what challenges may be taking place, who's pulling their weight and who's not. If you're working in a closed environment, which means each person is working on their portion and there's no constant feedback or sharing, you'll eventually discover that at least one person isn't doing what was expected, and you may not know what their motives are.

They may not have wanted to work on the project in the first place. They may not have agreed with the principles. They may not have fully understood what to do. They may not have fully understood its importance, and worked on other things instead. They may not like the people they were supposed to work with on the project.

There are many more examples, but this is enough to show that if something is important enough to be worked on, it's important enough to make sure that the right people are working on it, and that everyone is working together, towards the same goal.

Fighting terrorism isn't something that someone else has to do; we each have to do our own little part, whether it's real world, or business, to try to help reduce its possibilities of occurring.

T.T. "Mitch" Mitchell of T. T. Mitchell Consulting specializes in helping companies produce more effective and satisfied employees at all levels, as well as helping individuals be better and more content in their professional and personal lives. He concentrates especially on management, leadership and diversity. Read about and subscribe to his 2 newsletters—on management and healthcare business issues respectively—here.


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