The Damage Our Stories Can Create

Gregory K. Stephens, Ph.D., AOM Ombuds Committee

Consider the self-fulfilling prophecy and the role of assumptions and stories in this cycle; two people work together productively for many years, collaborating on a variety of scholarly works. After a while, though, one of them is interviewed for a podcast, and refers to their work as “my” work, and uses “I” in response to the interviewer’s questions. The other, hearing this seemingly selfish appropriation of their collaboration, begins to wonder whether her collaborator really respects her contributions. That doubt, and the subsequent questions about mutual respect, begins to take root in her mind. Concerned that her collaborator may have ulterior motives, she begins to withhold certain ideas, worried that he might take them for his own. He, in turn, begins to wonder why she is suddenly and seemingly less creative and less interested in the collaboration they once enjoyed. It doesn’t take long before they both start looking elsewhere for professional collaboration and stimulation, and a promising and productive relationship begins to die.

Any attorney or police officer will tell you that most people make terrible eye witnesses. Why? Because we rarely have all the facts, but in the same way that nature abhors a vacuum, our minds abhor an incomplete understanding of a situation. So, we intuitively generate stories (we in the social sciences would call them hypotheses) to fill in the gaps. The problem lies in that, all too often, we believe those stories as if they were fact. And unlike the hypotheses we generate in our research, because we think of them as facts, we don’t explore them or test them to find out if they are accurate. Not surprisingly, difficulties inevitably follow.

As Ombuds, an important part of our role and function is to help our visitors to differentiate between fact and story, challenge their stories, explore plausible alternatives, and then determine ways to discover whether and which stories might be true. A key element of this process is to move away from accusation and toward curiosity. Simply differentiating story from fact, and acknowledging that the story might not be true, is often enough to replace pain and accusation with curiosity, leading to questions rather than recriminations.

Strong relationships, whether professional or personal, necessarily require a certain forbearance, a willingness to think of the other with tolerance rather than leaping immediately to the worst possible story when confronted with what seems like ill behavior. Yes, there is risk in that stance, but without it, the risk of unhealthy or sundered relationships may be even greater.

The following passage is attributed to the Buddha: “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.” As Ombuds, we would suggest that if the answer to the first question is “possibly not,” then your attitude should properly be one of curiosity, and your subsequent actions should be built around healthy dialogue. With that mindset, many of the issues that come our way each year would quite likely be resolved without the need of a neutral third party.

So, what are your stories about those with whom you work?

Leading Ethically Through Diversity and Inclusion Policies

Guest Post from Kristine D. Jones-Pasley, Ph.D.

From the AOM Code of Ethics: AOM members are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role
differences, including those based on age, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual
orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status, and they consider these factors when working with all
people. AOM members try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on these factors, and they do not
knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices.

We know that a hot topic for many organizations is the creation of a diverse and inclusive work endiversity at workvironment. Organizations tend to focus on gender and race when it comes to the topic of diversity; however, diversity is much more. Let’s focus on diversity as it relates to people with disabilities (PWD).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (2017), the unemployment rate in 2016 for PWD was 10.5% vs 4.6% for people without disabilities (para. 1). BLS (2017) stated that the unemployment rate for PWD “was little changed from the previous year” (para. 1).

We need to look at these numbers in context, the BLS report information comes from the Current Population Survey, which surveys 60,000 households on employment statuses in the United States. The information is voluntary and from their data BLS determined that the majority of those surveyed with a disability were over the age of 65. This information leads to several questions:

  • Are those younger than 65 hesitant to acknowledge their disability?
  • If they are hesitant, why?
  • How many in the workforce are hiding their disability?

I want to touch on the last question. How many in the workforce are hiding their disability? This one question leads to a host of several questions regarding leadership and organizational culture. When we think of disability we tend to think of visible disabilities; however, there are a number of individuals who have non-visible disabilities.

Think about your team, how many do you know suffer from chronic depression? Diabetes? Heart disease? Migraine headaches? These are just some of the impairments that are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Can you also see why some individuals do not self-identify as having a disability?

Continue to think about your team. Do you have someone on your team that has used a lot of leave in large blocks due to a mysterious illness. Do you have someone on your team that takes several breaks throughout the day to walk around, in the restroom, in their car, etc.?

Have you as a leader and your organization in general, created an environment where team members feel comfortable reporting that they are facing challenges? Are you currently “watching” a member of your team for one more strike so that you can release them from the company? If you knew that they had a disability would you change your mind about releasing them from the company? If you knew that your top employee had two heart attacks, would this change your opinion of the person and their value to the organization?

Legally, you could release the person from the organization if they are missing large amounts of time or taking a lot of breaks. Ethically, should you do it if mitigating circumstances are presented?

Conduct an audit on your organizational diversity and inclusion initiatives. What is in place regarding reasonable accommodations for PWD? How many leaders/managers/supervisors/team leads have self-identified as having a disability? Although organizations state that they are open to diversity and inclusion, many do not have the initiatives in place to support these statements.

If you are unsure of how to start a diversity and inclusion initiative, join me for the webinar: Defining Diversity and Inclusion for Your Organization.

—————————————

LIVE!! Diversity and Inclusion Webinar

Title: Defining Diversity and Inclusion for Your Organization

This webinar provides actionable first steps in creating a diversity and inclusion initiative for your organization.

Date: Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Time: 2 PM ET/1 PM CT/12 PM MT/11 AM PT

Audience: Leaders, managers, supervisors, change makers, and human resources professionals.

Register at: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/definingdi

This webinar is limited to 50 people, register now and save your seat. Those who attend will have access to the recording for two weeks.

—————————————

References:

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017, June 21). Economic news release: Persons with a disability: Labor force characteristics summary. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm