The Back Track Hokey Pokey – When You Disagree w Your Group

So much of what we accomplish in life happens with others – in work teams, church and school groups, sports buddies. But sometimes we find ourselves at odds with something they support and we face a choice – stand strong with our concern (and risk being marginalized) or do the back-track-hokey-pokey? Ta-da – like nothing happened.

HONORING GROUP NORMS. Most of the time we happily adjust our behavior so we fit in with group routines. We model belonging. Is the group informal? Prefer beer over cocktails? Encourage or avoid disagreements? We all ‘act’ differently based on who we are with. When I am with my girls-night-out friends I behave differently than when I am at a work meeting. It’s what we do. We show our membership by complying.

PUSHING BACK. But when we can’t comfortably comply, the group’s immune system automatically kicks in with a clear though subtle warning, “Don’t go there.” It is choice time. Do we forge ahead with our objections or do what I call the BACK-TRACK-HOKEY-POKEY.” We simply turn ourselves around and get back in sync with the group as if nothing happened.

SOME EXAMPLES. Here are a few case studies of how this tension can play out. See if they resonate with your experiences.

POLITICAL AND CIVIC GROUPS. Your name is Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and you have been voted into the elite club – the U.S. House of Representatives. You wear your urban attire and red lipstick. You speak up quickly and boldly because you assume that’s why you are there. But very quickly the group sends the message that you are not operating in compliance with group norms. The House immune system kicks in because you are a threat to the status quo. And much is dependent on maintaining the status quo. So, as AOC, do you turn yourself around? 

SPORTS ASSOCIATIONS. You are a member of the coaching staff at a winning university. Lately there have been whispers about sexual abuse allegations made against one of your peers. You have witnessed several encounters that seemed – not quite right. There is suddenly a lot of discussion about the importance of the school’s reputation. You are reminded what a great recruiter this coach is – and how fundraising might collapse if people were to find out. But you are sickened at the stories. How badly do you need this job? Perhaps you won’t initiate any discussion – but vow to be truthful if asked. It’s clear what the group wants. What do you want?

WORK GROUPS. You are a member of a management team working on an annual plan. You have become painfully aware of the lack of representation in your ranks so you mention diversity – perhaps you even use the term “systemic racism” as you make your point. You know from private conversations that several others at the meeting share that concern, but you are surprised that they are not speaking up. Perhaps your suggestion didn’t even make it to the flipchart. You give it another try and this time people are shifting in their seats, turning their bodies toward the most influential players in the room. The conversation moves on to other topics. You have been warned but you’re not dead yet. Now is the moment to decide. Is it time to turn yourself around?

NEIGHBORHOOD GROUPS. One of the great benefits of a neighborhood is the familiarity that comes from near-daily contact. Perhaps your kids go to the same schools. You use the same babysitters. You have neighborhood barbecues where all ages relax together. And then one neighbor mentions the threat of a low-income housing development coming in just a couple blocks away. You laugh, thinking that isn’t a threat. And your comments are met with softened explanations about crime – or even property value. You look around and most have found a way to disengage. Is it hokey-pokey time? Time to turn yourself around and pretend the conversation never happened? Perhaps you try to carry it on – with a light touch. But, for sure, you have been warned. If you continue, you might find conversations more limited than usual. Or those invitations keep getting lost in the mail.

PUSHING BACK AGAINST A GROUP YOU ARE IN ISN’T EASY. But it is happening every day. You might pull back – a little. You might work the topic with a more stealth approach. You might just keep putting it all out there and letting the chips fall where they may. OR – as I mentioned earlier – it may be time to move on. 

AS AESOP SAID: “A MAN IS KNOWN BY THE COMPANY HE KEEPS.” I’m not 100% in agreement with Aesop on this, but it does have an element of truth. Where do you stand?

4 paths of organizational diversity resistance

Sex Abuse of Athletes: ‘Don’t Tell’ is No Longer an Option

Reporting Sexual Assault: Why Some Women Stay Silent

Okay – here it is – the Hokey Pokey video.

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