Occupy Wall Street — What Do Our Reactions Say About Us?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is the reaction to it. While many would agree with the protesters’ core issue—the belief profits have come to matter more than people—how the protest is being conducted has made it difficult for people to easily categorize it.

We’ve been conditioned to expect clear storylines in news reports. We want to know who the leader is, exactly what the protesters are looking for and how they’re going about getting it. Without those pieces of information we’re at a loss and unsure how to deal with the phenomenon. And it is a phenomenon. OWS is very sophisticated in their approach to the logistics of fundraising, their online presence and how they meet the basic needs of a very complex group—all without designated leadership.

OWS has continually stated they are democracy in action–and democracy is messy. Democracy is also a process not an endpoint. Rather than focusing on the details that would make it easier for us to understand, look at what their process is demonstrating.

They are participating and taking responsibility for what they believe in regardless of the physical cost. They are ruling by consensus—meaning a 90% or better super majority—to ensure all voices are heard. This requires patience, tolerance and a whole lot of listening while addressing of issues and objections. Although unwieldy, once something is decided it’s hard for anyone to challenge its legitimacy.

What if we adapted the spirit of their process into our work environments? What if more people took responsibility—not just for their own work but for the bigger teams they’re a part of? What if more voices were included in decision-making? What if we listened better and were more tolerant of dissenting opinions? Perhaps then we could craft a workplace with a more equitable balance between people and profits where both could thrive.

Amanda Mitchell is an executive coach and strategist specializing in helping senior executives deal with disruptive drama within their teams. An advertising agency veteran, she experienced first-hand the business implications of corporate drama both with her Fortune 500 clients and within the Manhattan ad agency she led. She founded Our Corporate Life (www.ourcorporatelife.com) to help executives solve the problems no one wants to deal with. She has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, and quoted in Fast Company, CNBC.com, and Monster.com. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

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