Angry bossy boy pointing finger at someoneDo you use adult language at work or do you sound like a four-year-old?

I’m not a big fan of the news in general but the recent haze epidemic in Singapore has lead me to pay much more attention to the news than I normally do. I was delighted to hear when several retailers pulled the products of businesses that may be to blame for the ongoing haze problem. What I wasn’t prepared for was the language.

“No supplier has been proven to be involved,” states Asia Paper Products (APP).

When I read this, a picture immediately came to mind. It was a picture of a small boy, sitting on the floor in his room and his mother opens the door, sees the boy and then the walls, which have been covered with a kaleidoscope of crayon markings. She looks at her son with that knowing look and without a word from her, the boy says, “You can’t prove that I did it.”

My expectation of adults, and in this case of APP, is that they use adult language and adult behavior rather than something that resembles a 4-year-old child in trouble with his mother.

What I expect is that leaders of organizations say something like:

“We understand that the fires in Indonesia are burning on land that provides resources for our products. It is our commitment to help put these fires out as soon as we possibly can for the sake of the environment, the wildlife and the people of Indonesia. Here’s what we are doing about this…”

When you’re an adult, instead of saying “You can’t prove it” you say, “Here’s what I’m doing about it.” Instead of pointing the finger, you take responsibility and find the solution. I’m not saying that APP or leaders of other organizations take responsibility for things they haven’t done. There’s a difference though between not having any part in creating the problem and acknowledging and accepting responsibility that the problem exists and that we can do something about it.

I’m about to teach my NLP students some useful skills in conflict management. The first skill I teach is about problem ownership. It isn’t about who is to blame or who created the problem. It’s about who is upset. If I’m upset about the haze from Indonesia burning down their natural resources, then I own the problem. If Indonesian’s don’t care, they don’t own a problem.

If APP isn’t upset about their suppliers potentially contributing to the haze, they don’t own a problem. If they aren’t upset that the haze exists and is harming animals, people and the natural landscape, they don’t own a problem. And in that case, I guess the four-year-old response to a retailer pulling their products was appropriate.

And if APP does own a problem, meaning they are upset about the haze, the destruction of wildlife and natural resources, then I hope in the future, they express that ownership with more adult-like language.

How about you? Do you speak like an adult at work?

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