“If the recognition program you’re putting together doesn’t reward people with money, Scott, it’s worthless.”
“You’re wrong about that, Bill. Making money isn’t the only reason people work.”
“I can’t believe how naïve you are, Scott. You do-gooders are all alike. None of you understand business.”
Could you imagine hearing a similar exchange where you work? Hearing two people get wrapped up in their views and be openly scornful of each other’s opinions? Happens a lot, doesn’t it? And, sadly, not only at work.
Leadership practices that favor control breathe life into this line of limiting thinking. Back in 1905, Max Weber, a sociologist and political economist, introduced the theory of bureaucratic management. Weber believed this style of management—with its impersonal rules, rigid requirements, command-and-control hierarchy, and machine-like focus on efficiency—was the most effective way to run an organization.
Some leaders today agree with Weber, thinking the bureaucratic style is the best and only way to manage. Convinced of the truth and rightness of their beliefs, those who support the bureaucratic style often act like Scott and Bill—self-righteous and dogmatic about their preference and dismissive of other points of view.
Dogmatism has been unflatteringly described as the arrogant assertion of opinions as truths or as a rigid state of mind in which it’s believed that things don’t change. The dictionary definition of dogma is a principle or set of principles that are laid down by an authority as being incontrovertibly true.
Saying something is incontrovertibly true is rigid. It means the position is undeniable, beyond question, irrefutable. That’s black-and-white, right-and-wrong absolute. Not pretty.
Having principles and believing in them, living them, is good. That goodness starts to become bad, however, around the word incontrovertible. When people take the position that their view is incontestable, that’s a problem.
Because passion becomes prejudice. Intolerance is tolerated. Polarization prevails. Listening lessens. Voices are silenced. Hearts and minds close. Curiosity ceases. Flexibility vanishes. Learning stops.
There’s no room for differences.
No one says I’m going to take this job and become dogmatic, but sometimes people do just that.
Even worse, they’re unaware of having done it. Rigidity of thought and practice are like thieves that come furtively in the night and steal flexibility, growth, and change. The opportunity for inclusion, too.
When someone gets caught up in dogmatism, they can find themselves suddenly arguing with everyone, amazed at how stupid people have become. They sneer at other’s inability to see the wisdom of their ways. They’re constantly defending their turf, incensed about what their colleagues do or don’t do.
Could that be you?
Are you so sure you’re dogmatic about it?
Are you that person who’s arguing with everyone? Feeling some concern that your certainty may have quietly hardened into dogma?
If you are, do a self-audit.
Ask yourself these seven questions to determine if your sureness about a topic, person, belief, etc., has become inflexible and dogmatic.
1) Has my communication style become abrupt and dismissive?
Hardcore dogmatists believe that it isn’t worth their time to converse with nonbelievers because they have nothing of value to offer. A dogmatist will change the topic, give short answers, or ignore what’s said. They may lob insults—how dumb is that—trivialize, or harshly criticize. They look away, smirk, roll their eyes, sigh, or interrupt. They’ll use disdainful hand gestures, maybe even walk away.
2) Do I feel more anger and despair about differences than I used to?
Because they know they’re right, dogmatists look to impose their beliefs on others. When that proves impossible, feelings of anger and despair follow. They’re frustrated in dealing with people who refuse to see how misinformed and mistaken they are. Dogmatists are fond of phrases like should be, always are, and never, and use them frequently. When their expectations are unmet, the dogmatist feels anger, frustration, and contempt for fools.
3) Do I look for ways to prove that I’m never wrong?
Dogmatists pull themselves up by beating others down. They don’t make mistakes or have errors of judgments. Only the “others” who are wrong do that. A dogmatist knows the truth, so they don’t have to agonize over it. Nor will they compromise or move toward moderation.
4) Have I changed my circle of friends and only associate with those who share my beliefs?
Dogmatic individuals are confident about their beliefs. They hold on to them even when evidence contradicts them, so associating with people who think similarly is comforting as well as affirming.
5) Have I stopped listening to people who have opinions that differ from mine?
Dogmatists focus on their certainties. They’re interested in other people as long as they support their image of rightness. A dogmatist doesn’t see any way for someone who doesn’t share the same beliefs to make a good point, so they feel no need to listen to them.
6) Do I reach conclusions quickly based on how I see the world?
Dogmatists use an all-or-nothing, my-way-or-the-highway approach to life. That includes decision-making and problem-solving. If one solution to a problem clearly aligns with a dogmatist’s perspective, they select that option and view time spent seeking out alternative solutions a waste of time.
7) Do I see the world in terms of black or white?
To a dogmatist, the world is simple. People are either a good guy or a bad one. Someone is either a friend or foe. Someone’s position is either right or wrong. Dogmatists don’t see complexity or nuance. A problem with two answers that are both right yet contradictory doesn’t exist. There’s a single category or label for everything and everyone.
Recognize yourself in any of these questions?
If you do, reach out to a trusted friend or colleague. Ask for their help in finding less rigid and irrefutable territory. You, and those around you, will be happier.
P.S. Please indulge me…for purposes of illustration, I went to the off-the-charts extreme in defining a dogmatist.
She unmade my side of the bed because I didn’t do it right.
My house guest was having problems with her shoulder. She said doing simple things like making up a bed aggravated her discomfort. I volunteered to help, and she agreed. Her ground rule for accepting help was that she would make up one side of the queen-sized bed and I’d do the other. Worked for me. We agreed she’d give me a shout-out the next morning when she was ready to make up her bed.
Puzzled, and feeling a little miffed, I walked over to the side she’d made up. Perhaps she had a different way of tucking in the top sheet. Nope, we’d both done hospital corners. Granted, her angle on the fold was a little crisper than mine. That was the only difference I could see.
What she saw was different.
My side wasn’t perfect like hers was, and she wasn’t going to settle for less than perfect even if it made her wince to first pull out and then redo my work.
Pain is too big a price to pay for perfection.
In the past, I’ve done my dances with perfection, and I refuse to dance with it anymore. Perfection is an unworthy goal. It’s over-rated, not worth the added time, stress, and frustration.
Perfection is overrated, boring. It’s the imperfections—the vulnerabilities, the weaknesses, the human elements—that make us who we are, that make us real, beautiful…necessary. ~Guy Harrison
Before you dance another dance with perfection, give the following items a good think and ask yourself if perfection is truly worth it.
9 ways perfection is overrated
Most people don’t recognize perfection when they see it.
Why? Because people describe perfection differently. Perfection is an absence of flaws or defects. Perfection, like beauty, rests in the eye of the beholder. I didn’t see any flaws or defects in my side of the made-up bed. My friend did.
Lost opportunity cost.
Rendering anything without flaw or defect requires a big investment of time. There’s the time to do and redo until perfection is achieved. Some perfectionists are chronic procrastinators. They put off starting something because they’re concerned about not being able to complete the task perfectly. Sometimes their work never gets started and who knows what opportunities are lost.
Miss out on simple joys.
It’s hard to look perfect eating an ice cream cone outside on a hot, summer day. There’s a good chance ice cream will drip down the cone and your chin. It might drip on your shirt and your fingers. But, isn’t all that part of the glorious fun?
Present as needy and narrow-minded.
Perfectionism is a prime breeding ground for my way or the highway thinking, which is a death knell for diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective.
Perfectionism feeds sex and gender stereotypes.
The perfect woman is beautiful, thin, and flawlessly groomed all the time. The perfect man is strong, a protector and provider. Both thoughts are poppycock, full of stereotypical thinking that harms young girls and boys.
Being perfect doesn’t automatically provide approval and affirmation.
Self-esteem doesn’t come from looking outside ourselves for approval and affirmation. It comes from within. Everyone benefits when we give ourselves permission to understand that a thoughtful and well-done good enough is good enough.
Perfectionism will make you sick.
Perfectionists have greater stress. They’re at greater risk for depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, and mental health problems. Those acquired health conditions are unacceptable downsides, especially when chasing a rare, subjective condition.
Fuel negative emotions.
Striving unsuccessfully for that elusive state where there are no flaws or defects makes people feel inferior, resentful, unappreciated, and unfulfilled. Perfection purists are often full of self-doubt. Maybe anger, too. Perfectionism reduces people’s level of playfulness, curiosity, and willingness to take risks.
Consumed and paralyzed by fear.
Perfectionism is a cesspool of fear. Perfectionists fear failure, not measuring up, making a mistake, not looking perfect, getting hurt, being exposed as a fraud, and being alone.
Perfectionists often feel that they must always be strong and in control of their emotions. A perfectionist may avoid talking about personal fears, inadequacies, insecurities, and disappointments with others, even with those with whom they are closest. ~Shauna H Springer Ph.D.
Wanting to be a good person who does things well is a worthy goal. Looking to do those things perfectly isn’t. Being perfect is an overrated experience that serves no one well.
Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving. It’s…a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’ ~Brene Brown
Ready to give yourself permission to let go of overrated perfection and instead do your best and accept good enough?
Maybe she was just a bot looking to rack up a high follower count. That’s what I hope to be the case. Why? Because every picture on her social media account emphasized one of her body parts.
Her parts were lovely, but skin wrinkles. Boobs and bums sag.
So, this is what puzzles me. Why would a woman want to define herself by something that’s fleeting when so much of what makes a woman unique and wonderful is everlasting?
It breaks my heart to see a cover picture on social media of a woman’s dramatic cleavage or sumptuously curved booty instead of her face. Those body parts are amazing things to have (can only imagine), however, women are so much more than their body parts.
A woman’s whole self—her personality, intellect, abilities—can get separated from her appearance in unhealthy ways.
What we see in the media
Much of what we see in the media encourages gender stereotypes, unhealthy thinking about body image, or objectifies women. Consider:
98 percent of the women portrayed in advertisements are ultra-thin with large breasts. Only 5 percent of women have that body type.
Women were on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine 30 percent of the time between 1967 and 2009. 83 percent of those images were sexualized. Only 15 percent of the images of men were sexualized.
The average woman is 5’ 3” tall and weighs 164 pounds; the average model is 5’ 11” tall and weighs 115 pounds.
81 percent of 10-year old girls in the U.S. are afraid of being fat.
From 2006 to 2016, ads portrayed just one in four women as having a job (and to top it off women were 48 percent more likely to be shown in the kitchen).
Between 2006 and 2016 women were shown in sexually revealing clothing six times more than men. In 2017 that dropped from six times to five times, but the number of female characters shown in sexual revealing clothing overall remained the same (one in 10).
In some ads, a woman is a faceless object, reduced to features which are sexualized as objects of desire.
Women’s body parts are four times more likely to be included in advertisements than a man’s.
If women aren’t vigilant about monitoring these influences, they can begin to see themselves as a collection of body parts—only good for looking good. This inclination to reduce a woman to “piece parts” is borne out by the findings that women are more likely to be seen by other women and men as parts rather than as a whole person. Men are seen as a whole person.
What research says about a focus on body parts
This priming to focus on body parts and appearance negatively impacts women’s views of gender equality and social issues. Psychologist Rachel Calogero observes that “women who were primed to evaluate themselves based on their appearance and sexual desirability had a decreased motivation to challenge gender-based inequalities and injustices.” Ugh.
Are women and their worth doomed to being judged by their appearance and body parts?
The body parts researchers modified their experiment to prime individuals to think of women as a whole, not a body part. The result? “The sexual body part recognition bias appeared to be alleviated. Women were more easily recognizable in the context of their whole bodies instead of their various sexual body parts.”
For a little while some years ago, I let myself get sucked into to the appearance-is-everything mindset and became the gal with killer shoes and size 8 clothes.
I wanted to be known for looking good and for being smart and powerful. The last two were getting lost in the shuffle because I was leading with appearance. I was miserable.
7 ways to get comfy in your own skin
I learned to get comfy in own skin—liking myself no matter my dress size—after learning seven life lessons:
Appreciate that appearance is fleeting but that talents last a lifetime
Understand that the best power comes from the inside out, not the outside in
Surround ourselves with people who appreciate us for what we are, not how we look
Believe that we are not just a collection of body part but rather the beautiful sum of our looks, brains, personality, and talents
Accept that looking good, not air-brushed perfection, is enough
Boot the fellas who are more interested in arm candy than a woman with brains and opinions
Celebrate who and what we are, smiles lines, muffin tops, and less-than-perfect upper arms included.
What has helped you get comfy in your skin? What insights do you share with your daughter? Grand-daughter? Female friends self-conscious about their appearance?
Wouldn’t it be lovely if humility smelled like warm chocolate chip cookies so we could easily find ours when we lost it?
A small group of us were sharing comeuppance stories—times when we’d gotten too big for our britches and had taken a big fall from grace.
Betsy’s fall was the most dramatic. She’d been off-the-charts successful in her marketing job for a cosmetics company. Another company recruited her for their CMO job, complete with huge salary, signing bonus, and jaw-dropping perks. Betsy enjoyed her amazing perks for only five months. The CEO who’d recruited her fired her, saying Betsy was overly self-righteous, too self-important, and unnecessarily scornful of employees who weren’t executives.
“Go. Now. Be gone,” said the CEO as she made a sweeping away gesture with her hand. “I want you out of here immediately.”
Betsy said the CEO’s office had glass walls. So, while the CEO’s words were unheard by others, she saw everyone watching the dismissive gestures. And smiling.
It took Betsy five months to be able to say she was glad the humiliating experience had happened. Without it, she said, she would have remained too big for her britches, believing the myths about herself. She said she might have even become more unbearable.
“I got what I deserved. I let my success go to my head,” she said.
As do too many others.
Getting what we deserve
The endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. ~Anne Lamott
Not letting success steal our self-awareness is at the heart of staying humble. We control whether that happens or not. Either we let success go to our head and become self-important jerks, or we don’t.
Success isn’t some kind of a sentient being that inhabits our bodies, takes control of our mind, and miraculously makes us someone new.
Becoming successful or powerful or rich only shows what we really were all the time.
Hubris is an accessory we acquire.
If we were kind before being successful, we stay kind. If we were thoughtful, we stay thoughtful. If we were open-minded, we stay open-minded.
Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. ~Thomas Merton
How could Betsy and the rest of us have stayed grounded enough so we didn’t have a comeuppance story to tell? A smorgasbord of choices and options exists. To make sure we don’t get too big for our britches, all we have to do is be self-aware.
If you’re looking for suggestions for how to avoid having a comeuppance story, here’s 31 ideas to get you started. Take a look and think about what could work for you.
Be mindful of the expectations you set for yourself and others
Listen more, talk less
Humility is a quiet gift we give ourselves and others.
Quiet anything easily gets lost or overlooked in today’s hurly-burly pace of life. But, as with most good and worthwhile things in life, we have to want quiet humility. Have to work at having it. Have to never lose sight of its importance.
Owning the responsibility to maintain our humility makes all the difference.
There’s that old saying that two things in life are inevitable—death and taxes.
I think several other items can be added to that list, with one of them being conflict. Conflict is that uncomfortable, sometimes nasty stuff that happens when we feel threatened at the intersection of imbalances in power, money, or values:
Power conflict is prompted by disparities in control and influence.
Economic conflict results when there’s jockeying for access to and ownership of limited or scarce resources.
Value conflict bubbles up when there are varying preferences, principles, and practices between people’s ways of life and their ideologies.
Differences, another item that can be add to the list of inevitables in life, rest at the heart of all conflict.
People’s reaction to differences isn’t dissimilar from their reaction to conflict. Some try to ignore it, others try to vanquish it.
Others outsource taking care of it. “Come on, sweetie,” implored my mom. “You and your sister have to get along. You’re the oldest, so smooth it out.”
We can love what we are, without hating what- and who we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings. ~ Kofi Annan, diplomat
When some people encounter the discord that’s prompted by differences, they, also like my mom, want the antagonism to go away.
That’s really not an option.
sometimes the differences in power, money, or values are just too broad or deep to be closed. In those cases, the best we can hope for is to manage the conflict, manage the middle ground, and lessen the potential for destruction.
6 methods for managing discord
Experts tell us six courses of action exist for managing conflict:
Severing the connection
Avoidance might work in the short-term, but doing so is like playing whack-a-mole. We can’t hide forever from conflict.
Annihilation is effective in ending the discord. However, wiping someone or something out isn’t a viable method for addressing conflict except in cases of war or defensible homicide. (And some rightfully pushback on its need in those circumstances).
Severing the connection isn’t much better. While severing may be less violent than annihilation, it’s avoidance that can result in cool neglect at best or oppression at its worst.
Compromise is reached through mutual agreement or negotiation. While the underlying differences may remain, the parties agree to split the differences. Everyone gives up a little. It’s like the lessons we learned in childhood about sharing our toys and playing nice in the sandbox.
Some people say that when you compromise, you’re selling out. Things are either my way or the highway.
Other people see the personal and societal benefit in give-and-take as they believe there’s no one answer for all beliefs, morals, and values.
In synthesis, the sixth method for managing discord, people agree to maintain their differences while transcending them in pursuit of a greater purpose. If that sounds a little contradictory or confusing, think about inhaling and exhaling. Life isn’t possible without doing both despite that they appear to be opposites. The same two sides of one coin principle applies to many of life’s joys and challenges. Love isn’t possible without thinking and feeling. Leadership isn’t effective without results and relationships.
Differences simply act as a yarn of curiosity unraveling until we get to the other side. ~Ciore Taylor, author
Achieving synthesis requires people to abandon the polarization that results from I’m right/you’re wrong positioning. Synthesis depends on people’s ability to see both sides of the coin. It requires that they focus more on “we” than “me.” It means people decide to be both curious and accepting of the differences that contribute to a greater good.
Synthesis demands that people shift their paradigm about conflict, discord, and differences. That shift involves moving away from seeing conflict as something negative to be stamped out to embracing differences with trust and acceptance.
Creating the bridge from one side of the coin to the other is something everyone can do—provided we put our heads and hearts into it. What do you think?