Most of us have heard the idiom “let sleeping dogs lie.” How many times did your mother tell you not to look for trouble because it will find you on its own? Put simply, seeking trouble or revisiting a problem from the past is likely to cause difficulties now. It is likely the saying came from Chaucer who wrote in Troylus and Crisedye (1374): “it is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.” Similarly, John Heywood in A Dialogue Conteynyng Prouerbes and Epigrammes (1592), “It is ill wakyng of a sleapyng dogge.” As the saying gained popularity, it became a favorite of Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain and served as a warning to the King of England regarding the court, the American Revolution, and other issues.
Throughout most of human history, dogs served as companions as well as guardians of livestock, property, and family. A disturbed dog barks as a warning and will bite, if threatened, encroached upon, or agitated. As a result, for the sake of peace and safety, it is better not to wake a dog that you do not want to engage. This simple advice from ages past still holds true today. In workplace, “waking the dog” takes many forms. Three of the most common and easily forgotten relates to:
Always being right
We all like being right. Almost every human interaction includes at least one opinion or decision. Opinion like action brings out a strong desire to show our superiority. However, just as we dread a “know it all” in our personal life, it creates serious tension in the workplace. Regardless of level or role, if someone thinks he or she is right all of the time, it encourages sleeping dogs to bite. Instead of earning the validation the person desires, it mobilizes employees or coworkers to embarrass and put down the person. Very easily, that replaces productive effort.
Dwelling on Faults
We all have met people that love to point out the faults of others. A few of us might even have been lucky enough to interact with those that are only happy with themselves when they are putting others down. A person that constantly identifies and dwells on the faults of others cultures animosity and reduces engagement and innovation. Clearly, as leaders, we need to let people know how they can improve, but focusing on one side only reduces our credibility and disempowers those that work for us.
Being an Upstager
The last type of dog “waker” loves to tell everyone how they have done more, seen more, or accomplished more than someone else to make themselves feel superior. I am sure you have encountered a person that loves to ruin the story someone is telling by claiming they have driven faster, climbed higher, or been sicker. In the workplace, this type of behavior rapidly undermines the performance ethic of a team. It leads to employees feeling that there is no reason to accomplish something if it will just be dispelled.
What can we do about these “dog” agitators? The biggest step is letting them know the cost on the team and the organization and how these types of behaviors will not be allowed.