Dark Matter

The conversation usually starts out like this . . .

“You’ll never believe what just happened !!  I have an employee who . . .”

The conversation unfolds and you find yourself deep inside yet another difficult, dark employee relations issue.  Before you can say a word, or offer any insight, the mob (usually folks outside of HR) have gathered their torches and pitchforks ready to unleash their fury in the form of some level of progressive discipline – up to and including termination.  At least this time they came to you versus handing out their own type of justice first and expect you to pick up the pieces.

The challenge for you is not only that you are delving once again in the dark matter of people’s lives and in the organization, but how do you keep it up?  Seriously.  If you are always around the dark side of people’s lives and behavior, how do you not quickly fall into that same black hole?

Have you ever been to an HR Conference?  It’s like a dark matter convention.  If you listen in on what HR pros are talking about, more often than not, they’re unloading the dark matter situations that they’ve been dealing with since the last conference. It becomes a flurry of “Oh, yeah but let me tell you about this one !!”  I don’t fault people for sharing because they’re doing it to try and cope with constantly being surrounded with difficult situations.  Some of the stories truly are funny, but most of them are tragic and sad.

Add on to this the constant bombardment of people wanting HR to focus on Employee Engagement, being a great place to work, and building an attractive culture.  These are definitely items people would prefer working on.  The barrier to doing this is the lurking feeling that the next dark situation is just around the corner.

What can be done to combat this fact of working in Human Resources?  How can you make it so that you aren’t consumed with the next negative aspect of human behavior?  Is there something that isn’t trite or cutesy like inspirational posters on the wall that no one reads?

There is.  It’s not easy, but there is.

Candle in the DarkI’ve been in HR for over three decades now and I continue to enjoy it more and more each year !!  That’s not some motivational quote for a blog.  It’s the truth !!  Have I been discouraged at times? You bet.  It hasn’t been for long though.  Here’s what I do to fight the dark matter:

Remember that EVERYONE has value !! – We always talk about employees as if they aren’t people.  We also forget that we’re people too.  We can’t wait to pull out some manual and address people with policies.  You need to address people as people first.  If their behavior falls into an area that deserves discipline, then be consistent with it.  However, you must meet with the employee first and see what’s happening with them before launching into some short-sighted action just to lessen the pain.

Surround yourself with positive people !! – This is more than the usual “be positive” encouragement.  If you are around other HR pros who are positive as well as you are, then you have a community that gives your alternative perspectives to consider.

Have an accountability partner !! – You will slip and get dark.  It’s impossible not to.  However, you need to have an anchor or two who will be there for you no matter what.  They are your “confessor” so that you make your feelings known and they’ll be there for you no matter what is shared or felt.

Be the light in the dark !! – I know this sounds like a catch phrase, but hear me out.  You have the choice as to how to approach people every single day.  If you think poorly about others, it will show.  If people constantly bring a sigh to you and not a smile, then you can see where you are.

Turn that around.  I can tell you that it’s worth it.  I don’t think being positive is some parlor trick.  It’s a way of life.  Be that light.  Start dispelling the darkness.  Your company is looking for it !!


5 thoughts on “Dark Matter”

  1. Hey Steve – great title for a blog post. It took me straight to Rush – and Witch Hunt. Here’s a top version of that song from the recent Time Machine tour: #HRMusicShare


    Broadly – I agree with you. It’s easy to fall into dark holes and your !! points are really helpful. I also believe that in order to be truly authentic, we need to dive into the dark holes ourselves sometimes. My own experience of being bullied at work – whilst thoroughly unpleasant at the time, has provided great learning for me. Personal tragedy can, and I believe should, colour our judgment too. So if you don’t mind, I think I’d add ‘Be Mindful!!’ to your list, because sometimes, people pick up the torches and the pitchforks for what they perceive to be good reasons. Maybe our job is, as you suggest, to show them that there are other ways of bringing light too.

    Thanks Steve – great work.

    1. Hi Steve,

      I can’t agree more, and feel that what you are talking about is community. In HR, we have the tendency to do things alone for so long in the HR vacuum that we tend to forget that Humans are valuable (the most valuable asset a company can have), should be respected and that we ourselves are fallible as humans. When in a positive environment, it is participation in that community that keeps us anchored, refreshed and ready to take on the next challenge (ever have that feeling like you just don’t want to go to work…maybe it is because the environment that you are experiencing isn’t a positive one at the moment). Best part though is following what you suggest and in so doing becoming/being torch bearers ourselves…and taking that light with us – wherever we go.

  2. Steve, it’s pretty simple engineering: A company is only as strong as its weakest link. But what do most companies practice? Weakest Link Replacement Therapy – instead of strengthening the materials used in making the links…

  3. If you do this kind of work, it’s important to have some kind of ritual that ‘cleanses’ you. Some of my friends work with quite dark people and they all have some kind of methodology, explicit or otherwise, to stop them becoming the people they deal with. Humour oils as you point out, so does having someone to help with the unburdening process. I knew a therapist that always washed her hands after every client. Strange, but quick and effective for her. I enjoy solitude and music composition, which detaches me from many things.

    Thought provoking post – thanks

  4. Well said and thanks for the tips. I try to live the spirit.

    The biggest challenge is when someone keeps blowing off the candle light you try to keep burning. And, the worst is when it is the boss or some politically savvy manager who has his own self agenda in wanting to keep HR where they belong, next to the boiler room. IMHO, toxic managers, not employees, are HR biggest nightmare.

    Well, it must take lots of courage and positive energy to sustain in HR. After all they didn’t say it’s thankless job for nothing.

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