I recently wrote my first post for HBR.org. In it, I shared the idea that every individual on a team needs to take responsibility for how they are contributing to team dysfunction. You can read the full post here. One of the comments posted on the blog really got me thinking, so I am responding to it here.
Quick Catch Up if You Haven’t Read the Original Post: Essentially, when a team is dysfunctional, everyone bears some responsibility. Individuals are either wicked (maliciously or inadvertently doing damage to the team), wronged (allowing oneself to be victimized by the actions of other), or witness (watching dysfunction without stepping in).
In the original piece, I shared my experience that often the person who feels wronged is the one who cannot recover. The propensity to blame others and the unwillingness to accept responsibility for one’s role in the problem makes the supposedly wronged person a liability to their team.
In response, I was asked how someone who feels wronged can recover. The good news is that there are many ways to turn the situation around. I borrow from my colleague Tammy Heermann’s model that looks at behavior change as a function of mindset, skill-set, and deliberate process.
Probably the biggest leap of faith if you feel wronged is to accept that you have both culpability for what has gone badly and agency in making it better. Think back on some of the more aversive interactions that you’ve had on your team. How did your behavior contribute to the dynamic? How would you have looked; seen through the eyes of your wicked teammate? What could you have done to change the balance of power? How would you make a similar situation play out differently in the future? These are good questions to think through with a friend and supporter on the team.
The skills required relate to regaining lost credibility and to giving your contribution more weight. On the one hand, as someone who feels wounded, you need to stand your ground more effectively. Most bullies look for the easiest victim and the wicked ones on teams can sniff out the people who are least likely to put up a fight. The most appropriate defense depends on the particular attack, but in general, keep things logical and direct. Don’t stoop to their level, but don’t cower, either. My post on Conflict for Nice people has several approaches that strike this balance. Read it here.
There are small but meaningful things to do to rebuild confidence and send stronger signals to the team. For instance, where you sit and how much space you take up physically can increase your presence—so spread out! I’m also very optimistic about the work of Amy Cuddy around power poses. This simple way to trick your brain into feeling less stressed and more confident is a lifeline if you’re feeling wronged. Invest some time in watching her TED talk and then put your body language to work for you.
If you’re willing to put in the effort; if you can change how you think about your role on the team, you can change how you experience your team. But don’t wait for anyone to do it for you. No one can change how you feel but you.
Tools to Stop Passive-Aggressive Behaviour
Standing up to Powerful Bullies
I love the use of this model to help with such a personal and emotional issue.
Liane – loved this post. In my experience the “righteous indignation” of the wronged party can quickly turn toxic, and more importantly keep the individual stuck and unable to move forward. As you point out “culpable negligence” is usually a factor in all relationships that turn sour. Unless one accepts this, it is difficult to effect change going forward.