Who is the ‘They?’

Accountability Kindness


Key Point: Who the heck is “they” anyway? If I had a nickel for every time I heard the mysterious “they” brought up in a conversation, I would have a big fat piggy bank. The “they” is pretty much accountable for everything. Typically all that’s not quite right. I have been the CEO of an organization and found myself in a conversation with associates when the “they” suddenly appeared. Someone would lament, “I don’t know why ‘THEY’ made that decision?” Now the group knows that I made (or at minimum supported) the decision, but would exclude me from the “THEY.” When I point out that “Mr. They” is sitting right in front of them, a sort of recognition reflex occurs. It’s like… Geez… “Why did you fess up? We could have blamed ‘they’ some more if you wouldn’t have come clean and admitted that you’re the ‘they.'” Please give serious consideration to eliminating the undefined “they” from your dictionary. This pronoun is often a crutch for blame and promoting helplessness. When we feel we can’t do something because the “they” is blocking us from moving forward, it is important to challenge that assumption.

I believe that when people decide that they (yes… the word does have a legitimate place in our vocabulary) have a voice in improving things that impact them, the world around them changes for the better. I’m also not naive enough to believe that one individual can always overcome a sick or dysfunctional system. But I genuinely feel that that confronting and exposing the “they” can open a gate for positive action. It takes a mindset and antennae that is searching to eliminate blame, defensiveness and excuses.

Character Move:

  1. When you hear the word “they” being used as a source of blame, determine who the “they” really is. Ask for clear, specific definition.
  2. Once the “they” is exposed, honestly ask whether this specific group or person is really the barrier to progress? If so, develop a strategy to influence the “they.” If not, which is often the case, ask what you can do to make a positive difference. If you can’t, then perhaps the problem is not that important or you should remove yourself from the situation.
  3. Consider making up a name-tag that has the word “they” on it. Recently a colleague did just that and by declaring himself the “they,” he made it clear the buck stopped with him. This sense of self-accountability is a powerful statement and often energizes and mobilizes others.

Confronting the “they” in The Triangle,