REALITY #5: Funny, acceptable, and welcome are all relative terms.

There are no absolutes regarding that which is viewed as funny, acceptable, or welcome in any environment that hosts two or more people. Those views are instead highly subjective in their nature, they are affected by a wide range of influencing factors, and their potential impact on a team is enormous. As a result, the interpersonal standards of a team tend to develop and thus change over time.

Prompted by a broad array of potential provocations, any member of a team can at any time usher in dramatic change to the team’s interpersonal values. A particular incident or event can change the dynamics of a team’s interpersonal interplay overnight. New players can and often do have significant impact. A new team member’s understanding of what was suitable in a previous environment may prove to be totally unacceptable in the new situation. Similarly, someone new to a team may see certain behaviors, even though well established with their new team, as being beyond their comfort level.

The broad differences in the interpersonal expectations and latitude between professional, social, and personal settings is commonly understood. Professional and many social relationships are generally not based on the same level of intimacy, understanding, grace, and forbearance common in relationships with family and close friends. Similarly, that which will be tolerated, even appreciated, from one member of the team, may be seen as totally out of line and over the top when said or done by another member. Unfortunately, even though commonly understood, the boundaries between professional, social, and personal relationships are often blurred.

Leaders must be sensitive to every member’s tolerance for what is suitable and contributes to a safe environment. A readiness and willingness to adjust and adapt is equally essential. And even though they must lead by example, a leader’s standards can neither dictate nor subvert a team’s sensitivities and thus its operational norms. The contemporary comfort zone of any team’s shared perceptions of that which is humorous, suitable, and appreciated must be a matter of careful, thoughtful, and ongoing attention and concern. Failure to do so invites discord and encourages conflict.

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