Life & Work, Quotable Magazine

The Impact of a Humble Work Environment

What do you think of when you hear the term “humility?” Does it bring to mind a specific person? An organization, perhaps? Humility can mean many different things to many different people, both positive and negative. No matter what comes to mind for you, humility does in fact generate a barrage of positive cognitive effects for the individual and the team in which they work.

Let’s begin with a definition. According to Merriam-Webster, humility is understood as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” It’s important to acknowledge that pride is not inherently a bad quality. Existing in moderation, pride can help you to feel satisfied in the work that you do. However, in excess, pride can inhibit the development of other key personal qualities such as empathy, compassion, and acceptance of others and their opinions. A person with excessive pride will often overestimate their capabilities, setting themselves up for a catastrophic failure.

Dr. June Price Tangney holds her doctorate degree in clinical psychology and has spent her career studying many concepts such as shame, guilt, and humility. Dr. Tangney defined six key features of a humble individual. According to an article from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, “…humble people: have an accurate view of themselves, acknowledge their mistakes and limitations, are open to other viewpoints and ideas, keep their accomplishments and abilities in perspective, have a low self-focus, and appreciate the value of all things, including other people.” These traits are important not only for the self, but are invaluable in the context of a social environment.

There is no more universal and common social environment than the workplace. This applies to both the virtual and in-person offices, but as more people go back to work face-to-face, interactions will become more numerous and impactful. This is where the Social Oil Hypothesis comes into play. According to an article from the Association for Psychological Science, “Just like oil prevents an engine from overheating, humility is theorized to buffer wear-and-tear generally caused by traits that promote competition…being too competitive can strain one’s relationships with co-workers. Humility may be the secret ingredient that allows people to compete at high levels without leading to breakdown in one’s relationships.”

Workplaces are naturally a highly competitive environment. This is due to the inherent business hierarchy and this is not a bad thing. A low simmer of competition in the workplace can be beneficial; it helps keep employees accountable to do their work well and pushes them to develop their skills. However, it can easily go sour without the presence of humility.

Here’s a hypothetical situation: Two employees are competing for a management position in their office. The employee who received the promotion reacts with the following statement: “I knew I would get it! There was no competition, I deserve this. There is no one else who could do this job as well as I can. It’s about time that people started acknowledging my incredible talent.” The promoted employee is clearly arrogant, flamboyant, and lacks humility. If you were the other employee, how would you feel? You would probably feel something along the lines of irritated and resentful towards that coworker. This will likely taint your professional relationship moving forward and can make the workplace feel uncomfortable and hostile for you.

Now consider if the promoted employee’s reaction went like this: “Really? I got it? How exciting! I didn’t know if I would receive the promotion or not, my coworker is so talented. Regardless, I will do my best.” This is a humble reaction and it’s going to create an entirely different dynamic between the two of you. Chances are that you will not say no if the promoted coworker asks for your help and will receive future constructive criticism from them in a healthier way. The promoted coworker’s humility has acted as a protectant against fraying their relationship with you throughout this process. This is the power of humility.

By making this situation a model of how all employee interactions take place in the workplace, it will be a healthier, more positive, and more comfortable environment. This is, of course, a best case scenario situation. Every office is going to have different dynamics. But promoting the practice of humility either as a leader or as an employee is the first step in working towards an office where every individual can feel safe, seen, and valued.

While being humble among your fellow coworkers is extremely important, you should remember that your personal ambitions do not have to be humble. You can reach for something that is far beyond what even the most successful individuals in history have achieved. But when you make moves to turn such goals into a reality, go about your path with a humble and open spirit. Those who help you along your journey will pick up on your humility and be more inclined to support you. With a humble spirit, even the smallest steps you take towards your goal will fill you with achievement and push you onwards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *