3 Ways to Be A Positive Deviant in Your Workplace!

When I was a child, my parents decided it wasn’t OK for people to smoke in our house. They didn’t smoke themselves, and they didn’t want their children to take in second hand smoke. While that would be perfectly normal in today’s world, in the early seventies, when everyone had an ashtray on their coffee table for guests this was a radical idea! You can only imagine how it went over when they put up a handwritten, very polite sign in our entry way thanking people for not smoking in our home. A couple of my relatives quit visiting us! (For awhile. They eventually came around.)

My parents were practicing positive deviance. When you hear the word “deviant” you may immediately associate it with negative behaviour, as in “deviant behaviour.” (E.g. when you look up deviant behaviour online it lists things like robbery, theft and murder.) But deviance just means to deviate from what is normal, and we can deviate positively as well as negatively.

Positive deviance is intentional behavior that is performed with a positive or honourable purpose in mind. Here is a short excerpt from my book on positive deviance:

“Being positively deviant in your organization takes courage and requires vision. It is often difficult to go against the grain yourself, let alone bring others with you, but it is necessary for positive change to happen. It means asking questions versus problem solving, and being prepared to go through deep change to find your purpose and vision. It means speaking truth to those in power, and always looking for the proactive stance versus the reactive one.”

In the Deep Change Field Guide (2012) Dr. Robert Quinn tells us that the natural pattern for organizations (and individuals) to fall into is a downward spiral he calls “slow death” unless we are actively making positive adjustments. In the case of individuals, this means making deep change. In the case of organizations, this is called leadership. As Dr. Brené Brown says in her latest book “Dare to Lead” (2018) “We need braver leaders and more courageous cultures.” How can you be that courageous person who positively disrupts the normal behavior in your team or workplace to create a more positive culture? Here are some ideas.

1. Move Upstream

Does your team or organization get stuck in crisis management? Sometimes we can get so busy managing crises that we don’t look upstream to see why the crises happening in the first place. Focusing just on the problem (downstream), all that you see are the fixes to that problem. You’re not seeing the whole picture, and you miss the possibilities. By focusing on the vision instead (e.g. a workplace or team where people have continual renewal, can be creative, and feel valued) and then developing practices that will achieve that vision, you will come to different solutions. Ask yourself this: What are we doing upstream in our organization or team to create a culture of psychological and emotional well-being?

2. Examine Your Hypocrisies

What would happen if we all examined our hypocrisies (what we do versus what we say) and then worked at removing them? For example, if, as a leader I say that balance is important, yet I am emailing people on the weekend, even if it is just to “get things off my plate” I’m sending the wrong message. A practice I suggest in my book is this: Start a list of 10 things you do that are hypocritical. Go back and circle three that you are willing to work on changing now.

3. Incorporate Reflection

Thinking about the last couple of weeks, how many meetings have you been at where the facilitator has asked you to take a few minutes to reflect on a challenge or issue before speaking? I’m guessing that very few, if any, readers said anything but “none.” The go-to practice we seem to gravitate to in meetings is brainstorming. While this is a useful practice it doesn’t always allow enough reflection time for good decision making. It also tends to favour the loudest, most extraverted team members, and may not be bringing in all the diverse ideas around the table. Try these ideas: At your next meeting, 1) send out your agenda at least 48 hours in advance and ask people to reflect on a particular item and come to the meeting prepared to present their ideas, or, 2) present a challenge or new idea to the team at the beginning of the meeting and provide them with sticky notes to write down their thoughts; give them a few minutes to reflect silently and make some notes, and then ask them to place these notes on a flipchart. Debrief by talking about each idea. This will take more time, but I guarantee you will get more and better ideas than simply opening up the floor to a regular brainstorm.

There will be many ways to deviate from the norm in your workplace once you start observing what the normal, regular behaviours are. Make it your goal in this first month of the year to observe what has become “the way things are done around here” and then ask yourself this question:

How can I be positively deviant today?

In 2019, at least do this!

Follow this blog for bi-weekly ideas to create your “better place to work” from Deborah’s new book A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture.

A perfect book for your next book club! Reduced prices are available for bulk orders.

If you want to delve deeper into these practices join Deborah’s online course “8 Weeks To A Better Place To Work” (starting again in April/19). On sale now for New Year’s – save $300 by registering before Jan 14/19. Log in every week from the comfort of your office or home and join others, like you, who are engaging in new practices to improve the health and positivity in their workplaces. A complimentary copy of A Better Place To Work will be sent to you as a part of this course. It’s like book club, with online coaching – fun, informative and hugely practical!

Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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