The Dilbert® Life Series: Mental Hygiene Is Counter Productive

There are times that IT people need to vent. Usually they do that amongst their peers. Sometimes they disagree with each other and they express that. Why? Well most of them are straight shooters, not politicians or diplomats.  Now don’t get me wrong. I do understand the benefits of politics & diplomacy and I most definitely see the need for it. They can achieve things more often than conflict or direct orders can. Mainly because they make the people think it was their own decision and/or choice. The drawback with politics is that it takes time and in some situations, unfortunately, you don’t have that luxury. Don’t forget IT Pros work in sometimes rather stressful crisis situations. The bad part about politics is that it can also be perceived as “shady dealings” but this is actually not true. This is a negative connotation due to the often very poor quality of politicians. But I digress. I actually love diplomacy. It’s the process that delivers me either the desired result or buys me enough time to for my sniper to get the range . Either way, politics and diplomacy gets the job done, when you fulfill one prerequisite and that is to have professional diplomats around. As you might have already guessed, that wouldn’t exactly be me Winking smile. Politics however is not the same as “political correctness” run amok. Don’t be afraid of people speaking their mind. Don’t let the fear of others hearing some strong language or an unpopular issue being discussed guide you. That alone will not kill a reputation or wreck a well-oiled team.

Reputations have a major flaw. They take a life time to build and only a second to destroy. Are you telling me your approach to protecting a reputation is making sure no one ever hears a bad word out of the mouth of an employee who’s ranting to blow off steam? Guess what? You’re doomed to fail. Don’t we need to protect people from being offended? Yes, but don’t take it to far. Chances are that the offence is both ways. So don’t restrict free speech & open communication too much. But perception is reality right? Good lord, get a grip and grow a pair. People need to vent, express themselves and be allowed to do that in an not overly politically correct way amongst their peers. These people are in the trenches together, they deal with all the shit and stress. They shouldn’t be worried or stressed about using the proper diplomatic approach to everything they say. Political correctness can be taken too far. It makes for a very hypocritical, bottled up with frustration, unhealthy work environment. Amongst comrades you need not have to worry about that. And for crying out loud, I really do hope that humanities only hope for decent behavior is the fact that things are forbidden or regulated.

One shouldn’t judge IT managers or team leaders by the fact none of their team members ever curses or vents. Let alone some silly dress code. No, that T-shirts saying “You’ve read my T-shirt. That’s enough social interaction for one day” will not ruin professional relationships. Acting on those things remind me of micro managers. Meaning they focus on small issues for all kinds of reasons, non of which have anything to do with them being good managers. Do you want to know what you IT teams are worth? Look at the members. Do they stick up for each other? Are they not afraid to stand up and speak up about issues that are “threatening” one of them or their boss? Do they get the job done? No I don’t mean that they wear a tie, are in the office at 08:30 or never ever vent, I mean do they get the job done. Even at night, during those wee hours of the morning when needed or just even when is more convenient for the business? That should tell you a lot. That’s their PR without the glossy brochures.

Next to that it also has some other negatives associated with it.

  • First of all you lose your eyes and ears. Trust me, your IT people are your boots on the ground. They see, hear & know a lot as they deal with the entire organization. No matter how many tests, technology and reports you got at your disposal your people are a very valuable resource of information on what’s going on in the company. IT  as an bio indicator so to speak. From problems with vendors, storage issues, dysfunctional project managers to insane analysis and architects who’ve become a bit to enamored with the esoteric part of their job. In other words, if you want to know what going on let your IT staff speak their minds without fear. Create an environment where they can do that. Otherwise they’ll shut up even when they better open their mouths.
  • You’re flushing the morale of your troops down the drain. When people feel frustrated they need to vent, not be censored. That leads to unhappy employees and instead of having “undesired” verbal statements about a situation you’ll be hearing some very unsettling complaints about your stupid company. You might not like those either but you’d better listen and learn from them instead of saying that such talk “ist verboten”.
  • Don’t block the vents on a steam engine. They are there for a very important reason. Their proper functioning is to assure that the pressure doesn’t build up to high, thereby preventing the engine from blowing up. Same thing here, speaking their minds relieves pressure , stress and prevents frustrations. That’s a good thing as human beings under high pressure tend not to become diamonds even if they are bio carbon life forms. Chances are they’ll explode out of proportion when it really shouldn’t happen. A bit counter productive don’t you think?

Now this doesn’t mean you should stand for an all-out negative culture where all is piss and vinegar. Some venting is good, being a full time complaining sourpuss is not. Lead by example. By all means avoid e-mailing vents and frustrations. Words are volatile and dissipate. E-mail is very persistent. Maintain professional courtesy whenever possible.  While I think that respect needs to be earned, politeness and correctness can and should indeed be given. It goes along way when dealing with people. And the beauty is that by allowing people to vent and speak their minds you help achieve this. All you have to to do is maintain balance and don’t let the morale and the culture go south. So forget about dress codes, punch clocks, “mental hygiene” measures. They indicate another much worse problem. Management failure. Sure you can blame the issues on that T-shirt or someone’s venting. Perhaps you can even fool yourself into believing it. Perhaps it even helps you sleep at night. But it sure will not help you improve your business. For that you’ll need to put the good managers, diplomats & politicians in the right place instead of trying to rely on never needing those particular skills.

Leave a Reply, get the discussion going, share and learn with your peers.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.