Complacency is just as dangerous as Consent

Vivian Mandala

Maybe you’ve been in a meeting at the office. Maybe it was onsite. Either way, you heard something that you didn’t agree with. Morally, ethically or practically you don’t agree with this statement. Maybe it’s about withholding payment for work completed. Maybe it’s a racist slur. Or a sexist comment. Maybe it’s about price gouging a smaller contractor.

What did you do?

Likely, you sat through it, gritted your teeth, bearing with the stupidity, arrogance, ego chest thumping, and gross negligence.

No more.

No more should you tolerate this behavior. I’m not asking you to quit your job. It’s the very place you should stay. Change happens from within. Within us and within companies, it doesn’t come from the top, it comes from the base. If you want things to change for you and everyone you work with, stay where you are. Use what you have and join the fight against complacent, inefficient and archaic practices.

Complacency has been an issue in Construction for a long time, generally it’s survived “officially” in the QA/QC and Safety arenas, but it has more to do with human nature then what happens at work.

It starts when we stop thinking and acting for ourselves. Everyone becomes complacent when when you stop listening to that little voice that says, “That’s fucked up” or when you stop striving to become the very best version of yourself you can be.

Complacency is, in fact, a false sense of contentment.

On the surface, both complacency and contentment look the same, however, with contentment what you do, what you say and what you believe align; all the puzzle pieces are in place for you.

With complacency we are “pretending” that all is well, we turn a blind eye and keep our mouths shut because we are afraid of the repercussions or we’re so tired of fighting what we consider an unwinnable battle, we stop fighting and choose to surrender.

Complacency leads to becoming used to misalignments and unsatisfactory conditions, it’s a sticky quicksand where all commitments and resolutions to become stuck, whither and eventually die. It takes a deep, rigid and unyielding force within yourself pushing for something change for something to actually change. No excuses, no sliding backwards, you have drawn a line in the sand that you will not cross, no matter what.

Why would you settle for less than the greatest inside you?

What would you compromise what you believe and who you are when you don’t have to? And you don’t HAVE to, you CHOOSE to and then reinforce that belief with excuses.

You know what’s right, just and true. Step forward to represent what you believe.

If the most revolutionary of your peer group spends all their time talking and not acting, it’s time to change your circle of influence. Often we attract people who share the same mindset, so chances are, your crew and friends are all stuck, and most will want to stay that way.

It’s very comfortable pretending you want change, but you’ve settled into complacency, standing around talking and not doing, then you either need to step out of your comfort zone or give up talking.

At least be congruent with what is coming out of your mouth.

The darkness has you thinking you are the only one, who are you against this huge machine of industry? Whether you are in Construction, Engineering or Architecture, you are one and they are many.

I will say it again, change comes from within first. It’s not about the job. It’s about what you tolerate, how you maneuver and navigate through the office. It’s about how you allow others to speak around you and speak to you.

The real revolution has nothing to do with Them. The real revolution is about stepping into your own expectations for yourself and upholding your own standards that you made for yourself.

Right now, I’m asking you to listen to your gut, your heart and your conscience when you are in a meeting, or bullshitting with the guys in the field. If someone does something or says something that doesn’t align with your idea of what is right and true, say something.

It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be a quick rebuke. Get them used to the idea that if they are saying something that’s not right, just or moral, it’s not welcome for you. You will not tolerate that behavior.

I’ve been onsite talking about Cat Calling to a small group of men and, without fail, someone is confused by the idea of a woman not appreciating an outward show of approval for the way they look.

It’s a revelation to them that a woman wouldn’t love the attention.

In that situation shaming the man who doesn’t understand that it’s not only NOT appreciated but a form of assault is a revelation. The conversation that follows does not involve shame or reproach, rather, it’s an unveiling of an alternative viewpoint. Often one that has never occurred to them. And this doesn’t just happen in the field, it happens in offices all across the country.

It’s counterproductive to yell “STOP” at the top of your voice, even metaphorically. Shutting someone down doesn’t change minds, it hardens resolve.

More often than not saying “Hey, that’s not cool. Why would you say that?” and then listening to the response helps dismantle old archaic thinking.

ASK a question. LISTEN to the answer. FORM a rebuttal built on reason without judgement or emotion.

With the guys in the Cat Calling conversation they were suffering from confirmation bias, which leads us to INTERPRET information in a way that confirms what we already believe; “Women like this. I know because that one woman smiled back at me” not noticing the 99 other women who were shooting dirty looks or ignoring him completely.

We all do this in a variety of ways. It’s a very human error which was discussed at length in Chip and Dan Heath in Decisive.

Confronting confirmation bias without using emotions, which are easy to refute, helps to uncover an alternative perception and opens the door to the understanding. Regardless of whether or not they internalize the idea and change in their behavior, you have done your job. Their future actions are not your responsibility and is outside of your influence.

Your goal is for them to understand that you don’t approve of this type of action and you won’t tolerate it around you. But FIRST, you must say something.

You know laughing at a sexist joke only adds fuel to the fire. But saying nothing is just as bad. Put up a little roadbump that jars the conversation enough to stop the momentum, create a consistent and constant feedback loop around unethical behavior within your sphere of influence.

“The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.”

Benjamin E. Mays

Formally complacency has been an issue in Construction for a long time, based on the repetitive nature of the physical work.

Unfortunately it has more to do with human nature than any issue at home or work. You become complacent when you stop thinking and acting for yourself, and when you stop striving to become the very best at your craft, regardless of whether it’s a physical trade, managing or leading.

The way you speak, the way you act, the way you carry yourself teaches the world how to approach you. Just because you’ve done something or been a certain way all your life doesn’t mean that’s the real you. That’s just the version you’ve accepted and consistently acknowledged. So challenge yourself to start acting the way you believe is right and just.

The same is true for the person on the other side of these conversations. They were most likely taught there is only one way to win and get to the top of their mountain, pushing others down and using power to gain compliance. Or to take what you can when you can.

You and I know this isn’t the case. We only win if we all win. This was one of the reasons we are in this crazy messy industry. Constructing a building takes a huge amount of teamwork, communication and communal problem solving but, somehow we end up being the most backwards, regressive and oppressive industry because everyone lives in fear.

People who are real, authentic and vulnerable are rare. Stand in the center of truth and refuse to move from it, don't budge. I promise you’ll have company. We’ll be right beside you. Without your help, without all of the just, good and ethical people who are ALREADY working, we can’t win this fight.

Every day bright, intelligent and eager young people enter our field and quickly leave because the environment is so toxic, we end up with the most toxic people because all the good people either leave or stand quietly to the side as the quicksand of complacency swallows them up. Regardless of which happens, it allows this abusive behavior to continue and grow.

I don’t believe that the nearly 9.07 MILLION people working in the construction industry are all backwards, abusive and regressive. I don’t think the number would even be half that number. Most likely, 10% are bullies and scare the crap out of everyone else, leaving 90% of our workforce silent and complicit in abuse.

All it takes is one person in each office, on each jobsite quietly pushing back. The more others see unethical behavior challenged, the braver the second wave will be in stepping forward. Build influence within your team by aligning what you say with what you do and what you believe. This builds trust and trust builds influence.

When you influence those around you to act in a way that supports their own ethics, you teach them how to align as well. This, in turn, will give rise to the third wave. This is how you change an industry. From inside. Not through office memo’s and legal requirements, those are the lowest bar and last defense. We know how to live a life to be proud of, we don’t need someone else to dictate it for us.

In the comments below, share an instance where you spoke out against an unethical behavior. Good, bad or ugly share what you’ve experienced.

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