As the scale of what we’re doing at SLSC has grown, I’ve come to believe that the root cause of almost all problems and inefficiencies is lack of clear communication and understanding of expectations.
This includes issues with staff, issues with members, issues with members not liking staff, issues with members not liking each other, issues with staff not completing their duties up to expectation, etc.
As someone who generally prefers thinking about the big picture and is often out of touch with the emotions and feelings of those around me, this can be pretty frustrating since I often struggle to empathize with what I tend to see as petty drama or gossip.
Over the last year and change, we’ve built up a management structure for almost all staff that work at SLSC that includes at least fortnightly one-on-one meetings as well as consistent staff meetings. Over the next few months, every one who works at the gym will have a one-on-one with someone.
I’ve noticed that – even if nothing productive is actually accomplished in the one-on-one meetings – the open flow of communication has dramatically changed the “feeling” of the organization.
Why is that? Well, it turns out that humans are really great at creating crackpot conspiracy theories about how everyone is out to get them. And, these conspiracy theories bog down attempts at improving the overall quality of an organization since people become more concerned with their own standing, the coalitions they are forming, and where they sit relative to “rivals” than they are with the big picture.
I see this with members in classes as well. I occasionally get e-mails complaining about the behavior of certain members or coaches – and, while I appreciate the communication and often do take action based upon this feedback – I am also often struck by the layers of cognitive bias in the tales that are spun up in our minds about how we are being singled out and unfairly mistreated.
(If you think this is about you, it probably at least partially is. That doesn’t mean that I want you to stop sending e-mails nor does it mean that I don’t believe you about the situations you’ve brought up to me. There are also multiple examples of this, so don’t think I’m singling you out…to get meta for a second 🙂)
I’ve come to think that Hanlon’s razor is one of the most important heuristics for existing effectively in a large group of people:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
If I could rephrase that slightly, I would change it to:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity, miscommunication, neglect, busyness, or someone being in the middle of a hard workout.
And, if I could couple that with a broader understanding of the fundamental attribution error, I would be ecstatic. An example from the linked wikipedia page:
As a simple example of the behavior attribution error theory seeks to explain, consider the situation where Alice, a driver, is cut off in traffic by Bob. Alice attributes Bob’s behavior to his fundamental personality, e.g., he thinks only of himself, he is selfish, he is a jerk, he is an unskilled driver; she does not think it is situational, e.g., he is going to miss his flight, his wife is giving birth at the hospital, his daughter is convulsing at school. Consider too the situation where Alice makes the same mistake and excuses herself by saying she was influenced by situational causes, e.g., I am late for my job interview, I must pick up my son for his dental appointment; she does not think she has a character flaw, e.g., I am such a jerk, I treat others in contempt, I am bad at driving.
Add those two pieces together with some folks who are wired for a tit for tat strategy for conflict (rather than the slightly modified “tit for tat with forgiveness”) and combine with the fact that most people have very low skill in dealing with confrontation (tending toward either silence or violence), and you’ve got yourself a stew.
•People tend to misattribute the negative actions of others both as planned and malicious personal attacks – and they assume that those negative actions are reflections of a fundamental personality flaw rather than a result of a specific situation
•They then tend to either suppress their feeling sand then give the “offender” the cold shoulder or make passive aggressive comments -or lash outin a way that seems surprising or disproportionate to the other party
•This then starts a negative spiral, since the person who is now the victim of the “silence or violence” now misattributes the negative behavior of the original party as a planned and malicious personal attack…
I’m exhausted just typing this up. How the hell do you people live like this?!?!?
Anyway, I’d love if this e-mail could break the cycle on a few of these interactions – or even prevent it from starting. So, how would we make that happen?
Let’s try the following:
•Assume positive intent. Very rarely is someone purposefully trying to screw you over. Most people are far too wrapped up in their own lives to spend any time or energy trying to ruin yours.
•Tell a coach if something is going wrong. Did someone take your equipment? Is someone encroaching on your space? Is an open gym person in your way? Did someone shave reps on the workout? The reality is that you are probably not in an “authority” position to effectively deal with this, and – unless you know you are skilled in having potentially difficult conversations – you will probably screw this up if you try to confront someone and you will thus kickstart the above negative spiral. Tell a coach and let them control the situation.
•Go out of your way to communicate with people with whom you may have had a conflict in the past. You know what a great way to break the fundamental attribution error is? Just repeatedly being cool and normal with no expectations to a person with whom you’ve had conflict. You know what a great way to keep the fundamental attribution error going is? Being awkward or weird to someone with whom you’ve had conflict.
•E-mail if you’re having issues. Believe it or not, a significant amount of my time is spent both giving individualized feedback to members and staff about their behavior as well as attempting to adjust the environment of the gym and the systems we use to run it to make it “easy” for people to do the right thing. Keep the feedback coming.