What a modern society doesn’t understand about the destructiveness of backbiting, was exemplified in a case of a child care business that sacked a team leader for backbiting, as caught by media attention this week.
While The Age report prompts a dozen questions, it reveals some interesting aspects of thinking in modern society:
1. The concept of backbiting is confused across all levels of society. In this case, the Judge did not seem to understand that a truthful rendition of facts does not determine the distinction between backbiting and appropriate criticism. Even where the facts are correct, truth is compromised in the flavour of the communication. For example if I say, “X is lazy”, this language has a judgemental flavour. The truth may be the X did not do action y in the timeliness expected by the workplace. Team Leader Z applied the judgement, ‘lazy’. Z has become aggrieved by their own judgement, and decided to punish X by making sure the rest of the team all knew X as a lazy person. Z now makes sure that everyone on the team is looking out for evidence that X is a lazy person. The team will now not work with X if X is having difficulties because they all ‘know’ it is X fault and X should fix it, on their own. And if X doesn’t fix it, that is further evidence that X is a lazy person, and the sooner no-one has to work with X, the better.
We can see, then, that backbiting does not reveal the truth even where it details facts that can be verified. The dishonesty in backbiting is in the flavour of that communication, including that it is a series of harping communications with no intention of seeking resolution and made to people who have no authority or ability to offer corrective advice. Backbiting deepens the degree of that behaviour in the minds of those who hear the backbiting, and has the result of making it increasingly difficult for a team to resolve the behaviour.
2. There is an acceptance that people are backbiting and we should all just put up with it. The malaise that backbiting induces in society at all levels; the support it gives to mediocrity in all types of thinking and action at all levels of society; the support it gives to violence and anger in families, communities and nations; dictates that backbiting is the most seriously detrimental activity that societies across the world, engage.
3. There is a fear that we are not able to do anything about backbiting in the workplace or any arena of society. Yet every workplace has a process for bringing problems to the appropriate authorities. Often the team leader is the first point of contact for complaints about other team members in the frontline of the workplace. The team leader will certainly have a clear pathway for dealing with the complaint, usually including presenting to the Line Manager. A team leader who backbites will undermine the integrity of the business and cause terrible malaise and loss of productivity, everyone goes home with greater fatigue. As backbiting is common to workplaces, it is common that everyone has unnecessary fatigue, illness, and mental health issues.
What to do about backbiting.
1. All employers must develop a culture of opportunity for workers to express the difficulties they are experiencing. Not, I don’t mean the problems someone else has, but understanding the distinction here is something workers will all need training to;
2. In the culture of self-expression, the employer must also be self-expressive, ie there is no problem worker, just a responsibility the employer has towards the integrity of their own business, and the integrity of the business relies on grievances being solved;
3. Therefore, once the employer establishes their own integrity around a workplace that can deal with any issue, there is no need for backbiting. Following that I am a great believer in 3 strikes. Backbiting employees should be provided education in skills for appropriate raising of difficulties with fellow workers. If they need to be shown that education 3 times it could well be considered that they are untrainable in the skills necessary for that business. Team leaders should just not get the job if they are backbiting, and if they backfire as a team leader they be demoted at the first sign and then the 3 strikes rule applies. Since we, nearly all, backbite, it may be that the 3 strikes rule best applied within a time frame eg 3 months.
4. However, if an employer show integrity around the opportunity to solve all their workplace problems, the workers will soon find they loose their motivation for backbiting.
5. On the other side of that coin, the grievance behind the backbiting should be taken seriously and dealt with as all problems raised by staff. The truth should out after all. And certainly businesses would not want indolent persons on staff. But the management of indolence has it’s own approach.
Judiciary and perpetrators biting back at biting at backbiting doesn’t correct anything of the most serious behavioural disorder across the global society. World peace, economic justice, and the progress of humanity cries out for backbiting to become an historical disorder.