Is hypocrisy the elephant in the room?
I have a friend who’s been dealing with a disagreement with a neighbor.
His neighbor sports a bumper sticker encouraging, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Apparently, they are a fan of colloquialisms like this. Everything about this person screams loving-kindness accept their behavior.
When it came to navigating a disagreement his neighbor became devoid of common human decency, resorting to childish antics like name-calling.
Such disconnects, between what people say and how they behave exist in business as well. During a Co-Creators in Conversation interview, Josh LaMar shared how he experienced hypocrisy working for a large tech company as a UX (User Experience) researcher.
In his own words, "I just saw these examples of hypocrisy where people would say, 'Oh, yeah, we're gonna do this for our users.' And it was something that people didn't want. And I was literally doing the research that was supporting not doing a lot of things that I saw being built...just because something can make money doesn't mean that it solves a real person's problem. And when we start creating products, because we're going to try to get money out of people, it's just the wrong thing going first."
Such experiences are incredibly frustrating, especially when the expectations a manager sets for us do not match the reality we are in. We've all been there. We've all had the manager who says one thing and does another.
I worked for a company that talked extensively about the importance of teamwork and had a team-based bonus structure. But the owner was always too busy to develop camaraderie among us, and we each felt isolated and alone in our work. If we ever brought it up, there was always a perfectly rational reason team building was not a priority.
Being told one thing and shown another by an authority figure is particularly confounding. It's easy to talk about our values, to choose the right words to appeal to people on a deeper level. It's much harder to live up to those intentions we set forth.
Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, "The trouble is that not enough people have come together with the firm determination to live the things which they say they believe."
I sometimes reflect on her words before my morning journaling practice. Living up to the things we say we believe and value requires a strong resolve. Not least of which is a willingness to work through those times our actions don't measure up. As humans, we are fallible. We will miss the mark. Our impacts won't always match our intentions.
In other words, hypocrisy happens. I’ve been a hypocrite and so have you. It’s part of being human and the reality of learning something new. Sometimes it feels like hypocrisy is the elephant in the room - the thing that inevitably happens yet rarely gets addressed candidly.
A few months ago I was checking out at Walgreens when my daughter astutely asked, “why are you talking nice to her but mean to me?”
My first instinct was to get defensive and argue. But she was right. I had been speaking in a harsh tone of voice with her. I probably rolled my eyes dismissively and showed visible annoyance too. She may or may not have been whining, persistently asking me to buy her candy.
But here’s the thing, I don’t want to speak in a judgmental or harsh way to my kid. Whether she's being whiney or not. But despite my good intentions, it happens. I lose my cool and like most kids, mine lets me know when I do - we seem to lose such candor once we're old enough to sit at the table in the conference room.
Being open to someone calling you out without getting defensive is part of facing the time's hypocrisy creeps into your way of being. Being held accountable for those instances when your actions don't match your espoused values is essential, yet we have so few places where that's the norm. And when we are given such candid feedback, it's easy to dismiss it, brush it off, or defend our behavior.
The fact that we aren't collectively well versed in navigating these types of conversations is concerning. But there's cause for hope. Because when we are given the opportunity to see this mismatch happening within us, we can do something about it. When we do find those people who will be truthtellers with us, we can give ourselves permission to listen without getting defensive. And we can choose to make amends for our wrongs while committing to more purposefully aligning our actions with our values moving forward.
There's a common myth - admitting error is a sign of weakness. This long-held belief is a major barrier in correcting our mistakes and taking steps to live in alignment with our espoused values. This myth contributes to rampant hypocrisy by eliminating a path toward restoration and reconciliation.
When my daughter called me out in the store I acknowledged the truth of her feedback. And while I could have easily turned the blame on her and made excuses for my behavior, I didn't. I simply said, "I'm working on managing my own emotions and I'm sorry I took my feelings of frustration out on you." And I still didn't buy her any candy.
The fact is, my daughter's whining isn't what caused me to use a harsh tone. There are plenty of times where I am able to maintain my composure while calmly and effectively drawing boundaries with her. But in this instance, I was already triggered and emotionally worn out. And I took it out on her. My behavior wasn't about her, it was about my own internal struggles. And it was my responsibility to own that.
As leaders, we need to keep this very real struggle in mind as we go about our day-to-day. If we want others to respond well to our feedback, we must be open to receiving hard truths ourselves. And contrary to what many might believe, owning our mistakes doesn't weaken our position but actually builds trust.
A while back, I was working with a client, we'll call her Rhonda. She was given feedback that her tone of voice in meetings was making people uncomfortable. She had heard this feedback before, at which time she fired back, "If you did your job right I wouldn't have to raise my voice."
As you can imagine, that didn't go over so well. Eventually, she reached a point where she was growing tired of the turnover and late nights. Her kids were growing up quickly and she didn't want to miss any more of their childhood. She wanted her team to feel empowered to perform at the level she expected without her having to watch them like a hawk.
So we worked together on how to respond to and address that feedback. She moved past her initial feelings of frustration, expanded her perspective to empathize with her team, and rewrote a limiting conversational pattern into an empowering practice. As a result, her team became the high performers she had wanted and she got her life back.
If hypocrisy is the elephant in the room, we owe it to ourselves and those we care for to have more candid conversations about it!
Are you feeling stuck in an unhealthy pattern at work that's not in alignment with your values? Would you like to reclaim control of your work and life? What if you could catalyze meaningful and lasting change in an hour? Check out a Leadership Circle with me (Ariana) and join a community of fellow change-makers who are leveling up. More information and signup online here.