I cannot take credit for this concept: Smart Talk versus Smart Actions, rather I am citing a small part of what I think is a wonderful book - The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilised Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert Sutton (2007, 2010).
Research shows that one of the reasons why aggressive tactics and "mean" behaviours persist in organisations is that we collectively perceive individuals that act this way as being smarter than others. Many business leaders have gained power in organisations through the practice of intimidating gestures and language, insults and condescending language. Staff will often mimic leadership and use similar tactics to manage their hierarchical status - and it often works for them.
Robert Sutton cites research by a woman named Teresa Amabile who wrote an article called "Brilliant but Cruel" that was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Through controlled experiments she found that "negative and unkind people were seen as less likable but more intelligent, competent, and expert than those who expressed the same messages in kinder and gentler ways" (quotation from Sutton's book).
It is a nasty game that is played when people pick each other apart in front of an audience and use "smart words" to try to portray their competence - and it seems to work for people who use this strategy to get more power and status in many organisations. But what does this type of cold repartee actually add to the bottom line? And what damage does it actually do to staff, partners and potential clients? Are we too busy as managers to pay attention to the shallowness of this behaviour and the lack of substance behind it?
Personally, I like the sound of the following questions that seek to explore "smart actions" in the workplace beyond "smart words":
What work is actually being produced?
What is the thought and data to support the work?
Is the work robust? What are the relevant alternatives?
Are people collaborating cooperatively to produce the best work?
Do staff help each other?
Are comments - especially in meetings, where there is an audience - regarding produced work adding, detracting or worse - destroying?
**Useful links to external resources:
Link to Amazon if you are interested in purchasing Robert Sutton's book, which I thoroughly enjoyed and gained insight from (ships to Australia)...this book does retail in some bookstores in Australia
Robert Sutton, The No Asshole Rule
Link to Robert Sutton's professional page on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website
Robert Sutton, Stanford University
Link to Robert Sutton's personal webpage
Robert Sutton, Personal
Link to Teresa Amabile's abstract (and option to purchase full text) for her "Brilliant but Cruel" article at Harvard Business School website
Teresa Amabile "Brilliant but Cruel"
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.