My friends from Holt Development—Larry and Guy—ask this question: What would it be like to have organizations that were filled with functional behavior? Functional and effective, as opposed to dysfunctional and ineffective?

Imagine that one of your coworkers continually interrupts you in meetings.

  • Dysfunctional Response #1: Start yelling, maybe throw a chair.
  • Dysfunctional Response #2: Stare back in silence, maybe hide under the table.
  • Functional Response #1:
    • Say: In our last meeting, you interrupted me three times.  I felt dismissed and angry, and I don’t believe that was your intent. (Wait for a response.) I’d really appreciate it if I can finish my thoughts when we meet together.
    • Ask: What can we do to make sure we both feel heard? (Wait for response.)

We are more functional when we respond in calm, yet assertive ways that respect all parties, especially when we have what we think are good reasons to either fight or retreat. We are dysfunctional when we overreact emotionally, blame and shame others, play the victim, or otherwise fail to take responsibility for our actions. We are also dysfunctional when we are too hard on ourselves (blame and shame can go both ways after all).

How can we all be more functional at work?

  1. Awareness—recognize our dysfunctional patterns. Am I playing the victim or throwing a giant pity party for myself? Am I blaming and shaming others?
  2. Compassion—seeing ourselves as human—messy, imperfect, but amazing. It also means seeing others (even when they inadvertently hurt or anger us) as humans too. Compassion ultimately leads to forgiveness. When we don’t forgive ourselves and others, we are trapped by past events.
  3. InnerWill—standing up for who we are and what we believe. InnerWill is about having courage and confidence in ourselves, and believing we are worthy of respect.  

Some may worry that others will take advantage of us if we are too compassionate and forgive others—and may point out that our awareness might not be the problem. However, when we change our responses, consistently over time, others often follow suit.

That’s why all three practices are important—awareness complements compassion, which reinforces our InnerWill. And these three, when used over time, increase our effectiveness.

What can you do to increase the amount of functional behaviors in your organization?  Start with your own awareness, compassion, and InnerWill.



Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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