Hi all, in response to the following:
"Extraordinary talent" Is an all-purpose justification for tolerating, pampering, and kissing up to these destructive jerks. Our societal standard appears to be: If you are a really big winner, you can get away with being a really big asshole (53-53).
What is your thoughts on this statement? Are we a society that embraces these jerks especially if they have "extraordinary talents"? If so, from your perspective, why?
Yes we are indeed. Consider the example of the salesman in George Zimmer's company (p59), a certified asshole that brought in more sales than any other salesperson. He eventually was weeded out but would this have happened sooner if he were not a very good salesperson? Undoubtedly. Big companies don't want to lose money and the broad belief is that there won't be anyone to replace this superstar. It’s ‘risky’ to lose someone of the likes and since it appears that colleagues and underlings are basically putting up with him/her (or are too afraid to do anything about it), the company just doesn’t have the courage to go though with it at all or some don’t at least until it comes to the last straw. As it turns out, at least in this case, his removal meant that sales went up in general but no one salesperson had as many sales. Working together and positive environments really do work and I think that’s something to be taught to parties in any mediation intervention. I.e. the money factor.
It sounds easy, but we live in a society where our governments’ actions are dictated by multinationals and the economy in general, there is a reason, for example, why the western European countries and the USA at the end of the cold war and still today mainly promote/protect civil and political humans rights which do stand up for democracy but leave little room for the social, economic and cultural rights of the people they are governing. Indeed, the current huge economic crisis has given governments the excuse they need to make huge cuts in budgets for economic, social and cultural services for their people but yet they can plug billions of dollars, pounds and euros into saving banks and economies. My point is that we are a society that takes away the ‘personal’ and ‘humane’ to look at the rising numbers in our bank accounts. Wealth defines us and gives us power and people in power are scared to lose it.
I think we also have to think about the 'me' factor whether it’s an individual or a nation state. I.e. the selfish factor - humans are selfish and in many ways it's a self-preservation biological instinct, but it's also an enforced societal concept in the west. Individual liberty is far more important in our society than the collective well being of any population, just look at capitalism. But what if all the money spent in the last 20 years on defence and military action by the west had been spent on social internal budgets like education and health, and on helping developing countries? Do you think that there would be as many international/internal violent conflicts? I ask this as an open question and I don’t know the answer but I do think that most of us would be a lot better off economically, socially, politically and culturally. Of course, if you don't look after yourself then you can't look after anyone else but what we forget most of the time is that the happiness and well-being of others is directly related to ours and this works at all levels. Sutton refers to this in one example in that he talks about the asshole ‘contagion’. If you are surrounded by assholes, you may well just end up just like one without even knowing it, and more assholes means more destructive behaviour which will have negative consequences for the assholes at a personal and professional level as well as for the company itself.
How do we fight this? Well Sutton has given us a lot of tips so far, and I’m sure we will read a lot more. I think it has a lot to do with a change in mentality from individualism to collective well being and an understanding of the interdependence in all our relationships.
I think we also have to think about the 'me' factor whether it’s an individual or a nation state. I.e. the selfish factor - humans are selfish and in many ways it's a self-preservation biological instinct, but it's also an enforced societal concept in the west. Individual liberty is far more important in our society than the collective well being of any population, just look at capitalism. But what if all the money spent in the last 20 years on defence and military action by the west had been spent on social internal budgets like education and health, and on helping developing countries?
Some great comments and I would like to reflect on the section I quoted above. Starting with the last word and contagion. I think contagion is something very important and very real. Admittedly I have done some research and read lots of it on emotional contagion.
Emotional contagion combined with our professional role as conflict specialists (i.e. mediator, ombuds, coach, negotiator, etc.) allows us to be guides during a conflict or dispute as well as potentially being that guide in a proactive manner. If we help guide others, specifically through our actions (don't forget nonverbal), we can help 'plant the seeds' of the non-selfish mind and actions.
Sure, it's an endless task but we (at least me!) chose this profession :)
I had to stop and think of what metaphor to use when I picked "plant the seeds" as I did not want to use a violent choice as admittedly I first thought of the word "combat."
I noticed you used, "How do we fight this? Well Sutton has given us a lot of tips so far..."
Jo, I agree with your statement, "I think it has a lot to do with a change in mentality from individualism to collective well being and an understanding of the interdependence in all our relationships," wholeheartedly. I believe that that attitude can also be spread like simple acts of kindness or jerkiness--though not as rapidly. I think that people need to see the "brilliant bastards" in their workplace ceasing to be rewarded, that would help stop the asshole contagion. More companies and individual managers need to do embrace the attitude that "phrases like 'talented jerk'....are oxymorons." But as long some people are getting away with it, others will follow suit and there's a good chance most of them aren't super talented and the only thing worse than a "jerk with extraordinary talents" is a jerk who doesn't even contribute talent.
Wait!! The last part of that sentence that I just wrote is part of the problem and a view that pervades in society but I still couldn't help but think it as I was closing. Arrgghh! To implement the rule, jerks need to be treated equally, which won't always feel right but as the examples given, hopefully the improvements made overall are able to counter the loss of that one person's sales or revenue however the company measures it. Sometimes you need to look away from the bottom line for a minute and look at other measures of a company's health.