Limits of tolerance

Nobody is perfect; rarely does everything run like clockwork. If you don’t comment on every unfavorable employee behavior, you calm the system. But there are important exceptions.

You are probably familiar with the situation: Employees make remarks at a customer event that you consider inappropriate. You now have two options:

  1. You become active, interfere in the hope that you can a) correct the wrong impression that the customers have probably just gained. And b) that you will at the same time show employees how they should behave.
  2. you remain calm, observe the further course of events and also how the employees engage themselves during the entire event. Only then do you decide if and how you will comment on the behavior.

Being able to leave things alone

The two options share a common core: their impact on employee motivation, loyalty and creativity. If you are constantly corrective, employees will simply get fed up. Which of these two options you ultimately choose probably depends on many factors, but always also on your tolerance for human shortcomings. As a leader, you should also be able to leave things alone sometimes. You will probably also be glad that employees do not interpret your somewhat bumpy speech at an employee event as disinterest, but rather overlook it benevolently.

3 important exceptions. But there are limits. In the case of the following three specific behaviors, benevolent overlooking can actually be destructive:

  • *Cynicism *(corrosive energy for transformation processes).
  • *Refusal *(willful withdrawal of willingness to cooperate).
  • *Intransparency *(unilateral manipulation of the basis of trust).

Cynicism destroys orientation

Cynical people disregard the feelings of others and don’t care about conventions. With their remarks, they elevate themselves above others, throw communicative smoke petards, and obfuscate an objective(r) perspective. Constructive contributions or discussions rarely arise from cynicism. It is different with sarcastic or provocative remarks, which - analogous to the songs of medieval court jesters - always contain a kernel of truth.

Cynicism has a devastating effect in and on transformation processes. These usually already bring enough uncertainty or open questions. Therefore, in such fragile situations, you should resolutely put a stop to cynical remarks. Use open and direct questions: What do you mean? What are your remarks based on? How generally valid are they from your point of view? Would you behave in the same way if this company were your own? How do you see your role in this transformation process?

Refusal destroys cooperation

Every person is different. Most, however, define themselves (also) through their work. It is important to them to make an identifiable contribution. This is also one of the reasons why companies often struggle to establish “cross-functional cooperation” and “silo-breaking learning”. This is because one’s own performance is easily identifiable in the little gardens. The resulting feeling of “it needs me” provides support, meaning and perspective. Broad cooperation at eye level is diametrically opposed to this feeling - which is why it is refused (without a new perspective).

Therefore, talk to these employees about new perspectives and ways to contribute. Unfortunately, as a rule, this rarely softens a refusing attitude. Because often this attitude does not reflect a misunderstanding, but a difference of opinion. And you can either accept this (as long as everything else is fine with you) or you have to part with these employees. The longer you wait to do this, the more contagious their effect will be on other colleagues. Don’t let it get that far.

Intransparency destroys trust

I am really not a friend of complete transparency. And not because I believe that certain information should remain secret, but because the handling of information should always be done consciously and prudently. But not all employees are able to assess the importance of certain information - at least not as long as no one takes the time to build these skills in employees. In addition, there are various reasons, particularly for companies listed on the stock exchange or subject to regulatory requirements, to treat information discreetly.

But here I am concerned with a special form of intransparency: a deliberate information policy used for manipulative purposes in order to strengthen one’s own position or power or to exert influence (via the masses). Such behavior can be observed not only among managers, but also among employees, as the following example clearly shows: Many employees have taken advantage of a new offer from the HR department and have discussed this pressure or the associated problems with HR employees during phases of high stress. Over time, one person has used this position of trust to establish himself as a kind of problem solver with the respective direct superiors in order to keep the “difficult employees” under control or to keep the incompetence of certain superiors under wraps. As a result, she has established an opaque position with both parties. Such abusive intransparency is intolerable. Unfortunately, it only becomes apparent when the damage has already been done. That’s why I advise leaders to take the time twice a year to examine the role, impact and openness of employees in the system - and to take corrective action if necessary. This is not easy, but it is necessary.

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