This is part three of a super long post that I broke into three pieces. I suggest you read at least part one, found here. If you don’t want to, that’s fine. I respect your shitty life choices. Have fun reading!
6. Gossip is going to happen. Tune into it, don’t contribute to it, and use it to inform how you deal with league issues.
First off, let’s be clear about something: gossip is not inherently bad. It can be a positive thing in an organization in that it reinforces social bonds, relieves tension, communicates and reinforces norms and provides context specific information (Michaelson, Iverson, Waddington, 2010). However gossip is something that many leaders get hung up on as a solely negative thing, and the absolute wrong way to deal with it is to tell people to stop talking about problems. Aside from that completely undoing the benefits of gossip, it never actually works. This is important so I’m going to bold it: Telling people to stop talking about something NEVER actually results in them not talking about it. The gossip just becomes more pervasive, more toxic, and manifests as other problems. It also causes those who are not gossiping to view leadership and conflict averse, or in other words unable to confront and solve problems effectively. (Quast, 2013)
Organizational gossip is actually a great way for leadership to increase their awareness of the mood in an organization or individual. Being aware of a negative mood is important because if left to fester, it gets worse and later becomes a bigger problem. As a leader it is important to not contribute to the gossip, but still be aware of it. A good leader will use this knowledge to inform future decision-making and interactions in the organization. Sometimes the gossip becomes malicious and needs to be stopped (but be careful about making that judgement, because it is often made for defensive, angry reasons), and if this is the case then there are a few ways to do this.
The absolute best solution for dealing with an individual who is gossiping maliciously is to confront the person directly in a problem-solving manner. The emphasis is on problem solving manner, because the goal is to get the person talking and hear them out. This is a first step that establishes trust so that you can work your way to problem solving. Sometimes the problem solving is as simple as a ‘thanks for sharing feelings’, and a request to bring future issues to you directly. Sometimes the issue involves lack of knowledge over league issues, and in that case you just explain the circumstances surrounding it. Sometimes you can’t explain the issues surrounding it because of confidentiality issues, so you just have to ask the skater to trust you. Notice the word trust, because if you have not established trust by taking the time to listen, they’re not going to trust you and this entire conversation will be fruitless.
If you feel the need to solve the issue with a league wide meeting, the basic format needs to be the same in that the majority of the time is spent listening. If a league spends the majority of the time listening to you talk about how the gossip is so unfair, their feelings are going unheard and will come back to haunt you later.
7. Be transparent as much as is ethically possible to do so
Sometimes conflict in the league centers around confidential issues and it makes a full, transparent discussion impossible to have. I understand that. If that’s the case, then you need to make clear that while you understand the feelings surrounding the issue, you’re not able to talk about the details.
This is a difficult line to walk, because divulging too much can come across like bullying, and divulging too little leaves everyone upset at you for being an asshole.
I’m going to immediately get into an example, because this reads like common sense but is in actuality a very difficult situation. My derby fiancé was expelled from my former league because she got black out drunk and did stupid things. No one except for the board had the full story, including my fiancé because she never remembered what she did. She was suspended, but it came as a surprise to everyone but the board, because we were only aware of individual infractions and not the full picture. My fiancé was also messaging a multitude of people in the league complaining about being treated unfairly.
I messaged a board member to voice my disagreement with the actions they were taking. My explanation and the response I got could have been better. The board member listened to me (not actively listened, though) but offered no explanation, and I felt no better about the situation. Had she said ‘I understand, but there’s a lot more to the situation than you seem to know and that I can’t tell you about. You’re going to have to trust me and the process.’, then I would have felt a lot better. Even if you can’t divulge information, you can at least acknowledge people’s feelings and frustrations with the lack of knowledge and be crystal clear about privacy concerns being an issue.
8. Don’t push your ideas so hard that you forget about the process
In the post mortem of my time spent in my former league, I see a clusterfuck of issues that went into the drama and conflict I experienced and witnessed. One of the conclusions that I have drawn about the problems is that for many, what they saw as a beneficial end result was more important to them than the process. If you have a fantastic idea for the league but piss off half of the league in the process, you need to re-evaluate whether or not it is worth the angst. If it is necessary, you need to be very careful about how you go about presenting and pushing your idea through. Having a round table discussion about the reasoning is a good idea, so that positives, negatives and concerns can be shared. If active listening is involved, a consensus is usually reached. Even if some people are unhappy about it, the league can at least decide, after listening, what the right decision is based on league values and priorities.
As an example, I will use the often-contentious issue of attendance requirements. When I pushed for an attendance requirement in Mainz, we made it a round table discussion at the beginning of the year wherein I explained that the lack of an attendance requirement was becoming a safety issue. My motivation was to decrease the incidence of injuries we were experiencing, and a big part of that was people coming to bout without having come to practice or worked out. I was transparent and genuine about my reasoning, gave everyone advanced notice so that they could be prepared, and was open to feedback on it. No one felt excluded or unprepared by last minute notice, and everyone agreed with the reasoning.
9. Leadership takes self-awareness
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in leadership is the phenomenon of leaders thinking that everything would be fine if ‘this’ problem would go away or ‘this’ person would just fall in line and listen to the brilliant leadership happening. Sometimes this takes the form of leadership assigning a person or group of people as the problem children and pinning, consciously or not, the league’s problems and drama on this one person. This happens often in families as well; mom wouldn’t have to be an alcoholic if you didn’t act like such an asshole and make her drink, Becky. Obviously the problems are much deeper than that, but in assigning fault to one external person or group, leaders can avoid a genuine examination of their own faults. This is also known as scapegoating or bullying, and for a more in depth examination of it you can go here. For the purpose of this blog post I’m not as interested in the mechanics of bullying as much as the steps leadership can take to stop it.
Self examination and reflection are integral to good leadership, because it allows leaders to examine their role in negative culture and improve their leadership on a continual basis. This includes reflecting independently by examining what actions caused the most problems and how different actions could have changed the outcome, and also reflection on feedback from other people. Feedback includes constructive feedback and critical, bitchy feedback. If someone is criticizing you for forming a clique and using the roster to punish people who are not in the clique, that’s feedback about a lack of transparency and a flawed rostering process. A genuine reflection of what factors contributed to that feeling, an open conversation with active listening and steps taken based on those two things are the only way those feelings can be avoided next time.
10. Your job isn’t to be everyone’s best friend
Leaders often have to make tough decisions within an organization. Some decisions are for the health of the organization overall, and not everyone might agree with the decision. Even if you’re transparent, collaborative, attentive, reflective and conscientious of the process, people will sometimes still be upset. That is perfectly fine, and not something to be taken as a reflection of you as a person. As a leader you have to take it in stride and not let it negatively impact the rest of the organization.
To my beloved Mainz Monsters: For the past two years and counting I have been lucky to be a part of our fantastic league. I don’t know whether or not you realize it, but we do all of these things already. Although I’ve been formally trained to teach adults and have been able to do so through work, doing it in the context of a sports league has been, at times, overwhelming to me. It’s an incredible relief, however, to know through your feedback that I’ve been able to contribute to the wonderful experience of this team. Not only am I profoundly lucky to have guided you to level of play you currently are at, but I feel incredibly grateful to have been a part of this wonderful team. At a time when my former league made me lose hope in the derby community, you came in and saved the sport for me.
To everyone else: However you got to this page and whatever you are looking for, I hope this rough guide is of some help to you. Of course we need to take a stand against bullying, racism, intolerance, favoritism, sexual assault, etc., but we need to take a stronger and more conscientious stand against the unique ways that we as leaders can enable or contribute to these behaviors.
I’d like to give special thanks to my friends Kiefer Sufferland and Sand Witch of the Ring City Rollergirls for giving feedback and editing this behemoth blog post for me. Typically I just half ass something, publish something, and then maybe catch mistakes if I reread it later. However this more academic and controversial post was more important to get right, so a heartfelt thank you to you both.
With so much love,
Michelson, G., Van Iterson, A., & Waddington, K. (2010). Gossip in organizations: Contexts, consequences, and controversies. Group & Organization Management, 35(4), 371-390.
Quast, L. (October 14, 2013). New Managers: 5 ways to stop negative gossip. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2013/10/14/new-managers-5-ways-to-stop-negative-office-gossip/#69cb6026431b