Anyway you look at it, it’s kind of a mess. I’m talking about the bullying/harassment story coming out of the Miami Dolphins locker room.
I’ve read the competing narratives:
- Narrative #1: Richie Incognito is a really bad guy, in every sense of the word.
- Narrative #2: Jonathan Martin needed to be toughened up, and Richie Incognito was just the guy to do it (and the coaches gave him the task of leading that effort).
I think this story raises a broader workplace dilemma. How do we bring out the best a person has to offer?
We have to be tough, don’t we? From every book on physical conditioning, to the provocative and seemingly wise counsel of Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile, we have to become “antifragile” so that we can face the actual test when it arrives. And, for sure, that test will likely be a tough, demanding, more-than-we-can-imagine test.
And one way to “toughen folks up” is the use of words. Books like Crucial Conversations and Fierce Conversations teach us that there is a time for something close to an in-your-face confrontation.
But surely there is a right way and wrong way to tackle that kind of toughness. And the NFL may have developed, nurtured, reinforced, and turned a blind eye to the wrong way to pursue this. In a Business Insider article by Cork Gaines, Chicago Bears Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall speaks out about this particular issue:
“A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is ‘Get up. Shake it off. You will be OK. Don’t cry.’ When a little girl falls down, what do we say? ‘It’s going to be OK.’ We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we are teaching our men to mask their feelings, don’t show their emotions. It’s that times a hundred with football players. You can’t show that you’re hurt. You can’t show any pain. So, for a guy that comes into the locker room and he shows a little vulnerability, you know, that’s a problem. So that’s what I mean by ‘The Culture of the NFL,’ and that’s what we have to change.”
One of the real tests of a good workplace is this: do the people enjoy working together, and are they effective/productive in their work together? One way to ask this, especially in the hiring process, is to ask (and be able to discern the true answer to) this question:
Do you play well with others?
In the Dolphins locker room, they certainly weren’t all playing well with others. And sadly, that may be a snapshot of much of our culture. We are so busy “toughening each other up” or “showing our toughness” that we foment something close to a toxic workplace.
If narrative #1 is the correct one, I think that when the dust settles, the Miami coaches have to be considered as plenty responsible—especially if they “assigned” the task to Richie Incognito. A casual reading of Incognito’s “record” would indicate that he could be trouble in the making. They knew that. So blame Incognito some, and the coaches maybe more.
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