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The “problem” is not the problem

27 Jun

I apologize to those of you out there looking for a return to the leadership content I often post here. This post is fairly HR-centric…although there are definitely leadership underpinnings, because doesn’t everything have leadership underpinnings? That’s just a fancy way of saying I want to share some thoughts that may or may not pertain to you. Also, the title comes from a quote from Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean: “The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”

So here we go.


The online HR community has been growing, which is a good thing. In the early days, there was a handful of HR pros out on social media, blogging, tweeting, doing their thing. That number has grown exponentially, resulting in a wider network for people to connect with others who are doing the same work and facing the same problems. There are more bloggers, more tweeters, more voices out in the universe sharing their thoughts. Not everyone agrees with everyone else, and I think that’s a good thing. Healthy conflict drives innovation. Let’s do it.

Then there was a hashtag.

When the #HRTribe hashtag first appeared, some people loved it, some people were indifferent, and some people were really bothered by it. In the early days, though, it wasn’t really talked about openly. It was sort of a “meh, whatever” situation. Hashtags come and go, no skin off anyone’s nose.

A little time goes by and some folks begin to voice their discomfort with the term. The reasons are varied – the idea of the need for any label at all is a bit off-putting; there’s an “us vs them” exclusionary mentality growing; the word “tribe” itself holds a specific meaning and is being misused in this context. Like I said…a lot of variety in those reasons.

For the record, I’m not a huge fan of the term. I’m hovering somewhere between uncomfortable with the word “tribe” and “why do you need a label” in my reaction to it. I’m not militant about it. I just don’t use the hashtag. Early on in the growth of it, I suggested that if people really wanted to make it “inclusive,” maybe they should stop tagging specific folks on Twitter because it was sending a different message than was intended. That seemed to be good. I moved on, once gain – not using the hashtag, but not getting all up in arms about it, either.

But then hrmemes (a satirical instagram/twitter account, by the way – sort of like The Onion) posted a fairly funny image about the #HRTribe stuff:

(Seriously – this is funny.)

The resulting discussion on Facebook was…enlightening. Suddenly, people who had stayed quiet about the issue started speaking out, and frankly, I was surprised at the number of folks who shared they had felt excluded because of the hashtag. That they felt like there was a wall put up between them and those who would use it. And that they were somewhat afraid to speak out because they didn’t want to “stir the pot.”

Huh.

Look, I’m okay with people wanting to feel like they are part of a community. If a hashtag helps you feel connected, great. Godspeed. #blessed. Whatever.

But there are things I’ve seen and heard that bother me. And it’s primarily around how those who are pro-hashtag are responding to those who have said they don’t like it.

This is what I said on the Facebook discussion, and I stand by it:

Here’s an observation from seeing the discussion on HR Tribe usage across all social media platforms. I keep seeing those who like the term dismiss the experiences or views of those who dislike the term. When specific examples of exclusion are given, they tend to be dismissed because the intent isn’t exclusionary. 

I get that.

And yet, here we are, a bunch of HR professionals who are supposed to listen to people’s stories and meet them where they are in their experiences…telling them they’re wrong. 

I’m bothered by that.

Regardless of how you feel about the use of the term, it’s the reaction of those around it that is starting to rub me wrong. Replace “I felt excluded” with “I felt harassed” and suddenly it takes on a different flavor, doesn’t it? 

No…HR Tribe is NOT an earth-shattering thing that we should lose our collective shit over. But maybe the way we’re talking about it should be.

Notice the focus – it’s not on the hashtag. It’s on the way we are talking about the hashtag.

I am disappointed that there are HR professionals dismissing the concerns of their peers in a manner that is disrespectful. I am bothered that some are HR professionals trying to convince someone who has shared their discomfort that it’s the other person’s fault that they misread the intention and that if they just tried it they would like it. I am seriously rolling my eyes when I see HR professionals reacting passive aggressively or rudely when someone has shared that they feel excluded because of the term.

How people are talking about this reflects how they would handle any controversial topic in the workplace. We are supposed to be a group of people that employees can go to and share their concerns. If someone came to you and said, “Ted from Accounting is making me feel uncomfortable,” should the response be, “Oh, Ted doesn’t mean anything by it. He’s just a friendly guy. You just misunderstood what he was doing”? I would hope not. And PLEASE don’t come at me and argue that a meme isn’t the same as harassment – yeah, I know. But it’s not a giant leap in logic, either.

Frankly, I’m shocked at the amount of passion and emotion around this thing. Some people have really doubled-down on their viewpoint. It’s a freaking hashtag. Yet it apparently has triggered some discussions that need to happen.

To be clear, there have been a number of people who love the hashtag who have said, “I get what you’re saying. Thanks for sharing. I’m still going to use it, but I will be more aware of how it makes people feel.” I love that. There are people listening, reflecting, and then making a conscious choice for a specific reason. There are also a number of people who have reached out and said, “I am glad someone said it. The tribe thing has bothered me for a long time but I didn’t want to say anything.” I love that, too. It means people want to have the conversation.

If we are going to be a profession that claims we can be a safe space for employees to bring forward their #metoo moments, or anything else that breaks the law, then we need to prove it. As Dominique Rodgers said during a Twitter conversation: If a group of kind, educated professionals can’t have this slightly awkward conversation, our nation has no hope for the much bigger awkward conversations that need to happen. Please don’t retreat. We value all perspectives. Promise. 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on June 27, 2018 in Authenticity, culture, Uncategorized

 

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3 responses to “The “problem” is not the problem

  1. Joyce Maroney

    June 27, 2018 at 8:53 am

    I’m with you on this. My initial reaction was that it was a tempest in a teapot, but the ensuing passion on this topic has been surprising and somewhat disheartening.

     
  2. Ben Eubanks

    June 29, 2018 at 9:31 am

    There were 20,000 people at the SHRM conference and I bet less than 1% of them have any clue this is going on. The “passion” and “outcry” at this is from a handful of people and we all have better things to do than argue amongst ourselves. Thanks for sharing your insights Mary.

     
    • M Faulkner

      June 29, 2018 at 9:51 am

      Thanks for chiming in, Ben. Yes, it’s a small percentage. And it’s people active online, influencers of HR, and representatives of our profession.

       

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