Already Ripe

by Shaun Kieran

I’m a strong believer in “prevention.”  Keeping bad things from happening rather than having to make “lesser evil” choices once things have broken wide open is always the way to go.

So, as I look at my posts so far, I’m noticing that my commentary and examples are slightly skewed toward what I’ve come to refer to as “already ripe” situations – a human relations problem has morphed into an unnecessary nightmare because the Social Darwinism barely beneath the surface is the dominant reality in that workplace.

My long experience as an Employee Assistance provider has meant that a major portion of clients tended to come through the door asking for help with a “situation” already up and running, and “ripe” was – so often – understating how far along, and even out-of-control, things had gotten. “Train wreck” might well be the better description.

So, trying to actually help a live person’s real problem, as opposed to telling them what they could have done to keep the situation from starting up in the first place, has meant that “prevention” gave way to two basic tasks: a) calm the person down so that they can hear themselves think through the noise and interference their own brains generate in the midst of emotionally charged situations, and b) validate the decision to seek help by suggesting – and/or helping them go away with – some specific action strategies that might be the basis for making things a little better.

But, I wonder sometimes, are my anecdotes somehow overstating the extent of “Social Darwinism” in the workplace? I’m fortunate to have worked in some extremely positive situations where virtually everyone behaved like an adult, and work truly was the focus. Those places do exist.

So that’s always a potential problem with emphasizing “ripe” situations – it might distort the true picture.

I have to say, though, it’s amazing how often it turns out that whatever type of workplace, – big or small, professional or blue collar – large numbers of employees believe, and act as if, the reality that trumps all others is about alliances and personal loyalty, who the boss likes and dislikes, who’s really in charge, and, therefore, when negativity erupts and now everyone is scrambling, first and foremost, the key choice is who’s side am I on, and who’s on mine?

That’s what I mean by Social Darwinism.  Some managers claim they see it, and hate it.  Goodness knows, there are enough problems without it.  But many let it go on, even feed it, and an obvious reason is that some of the best “players” have seniority, and are also good workers, even top producers.  Going at them is a difficult proposition.

I’m sympathetic to a point, but I’ve seen it too often – part of what needs to be “managed” is the fear, the anger, the unnecessary human relations conflict that infects so many workplaces.  Failure to do it, at least minimally, means inevitably that some poor manager or line supervisor will be shocked and devastated by how ugly and lethal their little cubicle world has become.

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