“Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain…” – from the song “This Life”
Vampire Weekend’s lyrics relate to what I view as a critical endeavor for both individuals and organizations: the imperative to acknowledge the issue and work through the suffering that accompanies it. For some, suffering appears to be out of fashion these days. Unfortunately, denial and procrastination will usually exacerbate the pain and its consequences by delaying an effective course of action. M. Scott Peck, in his seminal book “The Road Less Traveled,” (1997) asserted “You must be willing to meet existential suffering and work it through.” In my own experience, this maxim translates to –pain is a signal that I’m on a good road and working through it enables growth.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory maintains that people cannot move to the next level of development until they have satisfied the needs of their current stage. Organizations, like individuals, need to acknowledge and resolve operational deficits (pain) to move on successfully.
Workplaces, like individuals, deal with pain in a host of ways. For example, developments over the last few years have made us acutely aware of the pain and suffering inflicted upon victims due to harassment, assault, and discrimination and the inevitable consequences to both the perpetrator and their organization. Personal and work stress certainly take its toll on all of us. And work/life balance may be just another American dream for millions of individuals who labor at multiple jobs just to make ends meet.
How an organization deals with pain is crucial to its operations and, by association, the health and well-being of its people. Like individuals, organizations engage in denial and an array of defensive routines to ward off potential threats. And like people, organizations do so at their peril. Think of the hundreds of organizations whose leaders engaged in unethical, and/or illegal behaviors for years without acknowledgment and intervention by peers, and co-workers who knew that something was amiss.
What to do?
Individuals: Denial is tricky – sometimes, there is an unconscious component to it and you may not realize you are in it. If something is not right…seek wise counsel. This should be someone you trust to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Your employer may have an EAP, a benefit that provides a safe and confidential setting and whose services are provided at no cost to you.
Organizations: All organizations, regardless of size or sector, develop defensive routines that can be entrenched, thus, awareness on the part of leadership is minimal or non-existent. Like people, established groups will go to great lengths to avoid pain, shame, and embarrassment and senior leadership needs to step up to ensure issues are addressed effectively. Depending on the severity and potential fallout, outside consultation can assess, diagnose, and provide options to deal with the pain point.
View “painful” data as a signal – as feedback that requires investigation and the pursuit of options to address the presenting concern. Like individuals, I have found that when leaders engage in a process of discernment and deliberation, they develop a concerted response that results in the most efficacious solution.
Contact us for a gratis consultation to address “where it hurts” in your organization.
Stay well and excel…thanks.
Joe Lemmon, Ph.D.