Urban Dictionary defines petty as “making things, events, or actions normal people dismiss as trivial or insignificant into excuses to be upset, uncooperative, childish, or stubborn.” It further defines it as “a person who is purposefully childish with the intent of eliciting a reaction,” or “someone who does something in an attempt to hurt another person but really makes themselves look stupid.”
For this post, we need the Urban Dictionary definition to fully describe the type of “petty” in which I am referring. I am sure many of you read those definitions and could immediately relate that to scenarios in your life or people you know. I assume these scenarios and people exist in the private sector, but I can wholeheartedly affirm the existence of these scenarios and people in the public sector.
Imagine this Scenario
Your office hires a new employee. They quickly grasp the subject matter and begin to do well at their job. Because of this, they apply and are accepted for a promotion. A couple of other co-workers see this, and in jealousy, begin to slander the success of the new employee. They spread lies about them and look for ways to throw them under the bus (figuratively), with the intent of somehow making themselves look better.
Is this something you have seen or is familiar? It’s just one example of petty, but one I have seen many times. In the end, no one wins in this scenario. Everyone looks bad, the organization looks bad, morale is low, productivity dips, and people leave. This is one of the biggest contributors to a toxic environment, which I wrote about here.
Opposite of Petty
I would describe the opposite of petty as supporting one another and looking to treat others better than yourself. Some may see this as an unrealistic goal, but it is the most realistic goal if you want successful relationships and a successful organization. It is the actions of people that create an environment, and the environment that then sustains and nurtures people. It is one action, day by day, one person at a time, that will contribute to a healthy environment.
Think of the stages and places in life where you experienced the most growth. Your growth came because people supported you and sacrificed for you. This is clearly seen in childhood. The places we grew most were because of sacrificial parents, family members, teachers, and friends. But this is also clear in school and work.
For me, working under a boss that I trust and respect, who supports me, set me on a track to grow and develop. As a supervisor or leader in your organization, you will have great ripple effects in creating this healthy environment that allows others to grow.
One of the best and most impactful ways to support others is to defend them, when appropriate. Not the kind of defense that is blind to error and mistake, but legitimate defense when people spread lies and attack others.
In my career, I only had one supervisor that confronted toxic people on my behalf, and I think that one single instance created a lifetime of loyalty in me and released me to focus on more important matters. Imagine an environment that does not tolerate pettiness on the regular. At a place of work, there is potential for your most important asset, your people, to flourish. And outside of work, a community can flourish.
The Realist Argument
In conclusion, I want to highlight the practical benefits of treating others better than yourselves. A professor at Harvard Business School, Amy Edmondson, first identified the concept of psychological safety. In her research, it was this core factor, psychological safety, that contributed to the most successful teams. It is what makes an organization perform better. In this interview with Professor Edmondson, she talks about how it isn’t about being nice, but rather, “It’s about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from each other.”
If you consider these principles, they can apply to any of your relationships or environments. Look for ways to help others succeed, to make them shine, and get them where they want to go. Celebrate with others when they celebrate, and empathize with their frustrations. Just like you would open the door for someone when entering a building, look for ways to do that in your workplace and in your communities. It will greatly benefit everyone involved. I could write an entire post on how you can launch others to growth and success.
But before I go, does anyone know of an environment completely free of pettiness? I’m asking for a friend.
James Abyad is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He lives in Alexandria, VA, and loves people, food, music, geography, languages, and Tolkien. His full-time job is just another basic federal employee, specifically a contracting officer, while fully enjoying the Washington, D.C., region. After studying International Relations and Arabic at American University, he aspired to work in diplomacy or a related non-profit; yet, like most millennials, he is trying to pay his student loans off first. So, in the meantime, you can find him investing time in family, friends, community, church, spin, and eating. You can read his posts here.