I was at an event earlier this month and the host had an 8-year-old. He maneuvered his way into the main room and interrupted our conversation to ask for something.

The host told him to wait a few more minutes, to which his response was an exasperated “you told me that 15 minutes ago!”

Her reply? “You’re right. I did say that, and I said that more than 15 minutes ago. You should be more mad at me than you are.”

I was in awe of her ability to let him have his experience, being clear about who owned the responsibility for his irritation, but still note that she wasn’t ready to fulfill his request.

This is definitely not the response many of us would have received as children. Many of us, had we been in the 8-year-old’s shoes, would have been told to be quiet. Someone would have responded to our exasperation with their own irritation of our inability to behave.  

When we arrive in positions of authority, we usually arrive doing what we have learned from others in positions of authority. And our first experience of authority? The people who raised us. 

The problem is, leadership and authority are two different things. And it is our experience of authority or lack of experience with people who exhibit true leadership behaviors that can keep us from furthering the development of our own leadership.

This means that we can get annoyed or just plain tired that others are upset or confused and aren’t accepting our words and wishes as quickly as we would like them to. We do the equivalent of telling people to “deal with it.”

It shows up in subtle ways in the workplace.

When we change direction and get frustrated when everyone won’t quickly get on board with it.

When we aren’t sharing information we have access to, but think we are doing others a favor by distilling our interpretation of the information into a simple direction to be taken.

When we aren’t explaining the reasons for doing something, but instead repeating what needs to be done.

And it can be frustrating for the person on the other end. The person who feels affected and has to bury their irritation. The person who doesn’t have the information that would help them create their own perspective on something that affects an area they feel some ownership over. The person who is trying to understand and doesn’t see it as a favor at all that they don’t have an understanding of what they are contributing to, but only what they are told to do.

We are seeing more outspokenness around toxic culture in recent months, and part of it stems from these times where we don’t acknowledge the experience the other person is having – that they may be upset by an action we took. That they weren’t considered in something that affects them.

Even if your behaviors are well-intentioned or even necessary given certain conditions or situations, the acknowledgement shows that you are aware of the other’s experience or potential impact to them. It shows respect.

So much weight can be lifted with the simple acknowledgement. So much resistance removed. So much trust created.

Without that acknowledgement, toxicity can breed. And it comes from one half of the relationship (the employee) having to shoulder the entire weight of the other party’s (the organization’s – and therefore the leaders’) behavior.

Acknowledge the impact of your behavior and choices. Own them. Like the host at the party, you may not be able to grant your employees what would make them feel better in the moment. But you will save yourself from furthering divides between you and your employees.

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