Rules of Conflict: Attack the Process not the Person!

What does attacking Muslims have to do with work?  The short answer is… a lot.  Nicholas Kristof’s article in last Sunday’s New York Times, raises the question, “Is this America?”, partly on the observation of the recent attack rhetoric aimed at Muslims. He cites a blog post in The New Republic magazine where the editor in chief asserts, “… frankly Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.” Kristof questions the personal venom in this New Republic article and then goes on to commend Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders for denouncing the anti-Islam discourse overall.

It is perfectly acceptable, perhaps even desirable, to question the shortcomings of Islam and any other religion. “Attacking” ideas, processes, and/or situations is appropriate. Attacking people or groups of people is generally not. (Self defense from physical harm most believe is an acceptable exception.)

In the workplace, obviously on a much smaller stage, the same guidelines exist. Attacking the process, ideas, behavior, or situations can lead to learning and continuous improvement. Attacking each other verbally is counter productive. Think about how often personal or department criticism happens in a week in your workplace. Why? What good does it do anyone?

If we set the example on the smaller stage perhaps we can demand the same character from those on the big stage. We can change this in our work environment right now by what we expect from ourselves and our team mates.

Let’s do it. We can. Respect belongs to all of us.

with Character,


  1. Lorne says:

    I still like this blog, just as it is. This world of individuals does not adhere to the same playbook, and that fact creates obstacles. Perhaps those of us who do can impact the overall atmosphere. The old adage of “lead by example” comes to mind.
    I like Melissa’s comments above. She reminds me of communication techniques which clarify and avoid misunderstandings. If we took the time to do that in all of our relationships, we’d have a solid groundwork to move forward.

  2. Melissa says:

    One thing that came out my education in psychology was learn to say that someone had “x” not that they were “x” (e.g. a child with autism, not an autistic child). I’ve worked hard to apply this in all areas of my life and I think it’s relevant here. Whether you’re finding fault with something a person does or having the courage to generalize it to the process, I think it’s valuable to make the distinction. It isn’t enough to say something is a horrible, frustating process; you have to take the accountability to say “this process has a part that frustrates me.” Otherwise, I think we’re just shifting the blame and removing ourselves from the equation, when, in reality, we might be the ones who can make a difference.

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