Home » Glenn D. Rolfsen: How to Start Changing an Unhealthy Work Environment at TEDxOslo (Transcript)

Glenn D. Rolfsen: How to Start Changing an Unhealthy Work Environment at TEDxOslo (Transcript)

Glenn D Rolfsen at TEDxOslo

Here is the full transcript of psychotherapist Glenn D. Rolfsen’s TEDx talk on How to Start Changing an Unhealthy Work Environment at TEDxOslo conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio:  How to start changing an unhealthy work environment by Glenn D. Rolfsen at TEDxOslo


Imagine that you’ve just received some negative information about me, just before this talk. Maybe he or she who’s with you today has heard some rumors about me… some rumors about me being incompetent, being a liar, being a bragger, that I wear women’s underwear… How much do you think that would affect your image of me right now?

As a psychotherapist, working with occupational health, I’ve met countless employees and leaders who are suffering from a toxic and unhealthy working environment. They are struggling because they’re lacking knowledge how to change the environment. They need outside help.

I’ve tried to help them and failed, times and times again. I’ve tried conflict resolutions, group discussions, individual interviews, leadership coaching, failing time and time again to change this unhealthy working environment.

So  10 years ago, I started a little investigation of my own. I was trying to figure out why it is so hard to change, and I found out that a great number of employees and leaders were talking negatively about their colleagues when they were not present. Namely, backbiting.

So, the definition of backbiting is talking negatively about a third person who’s not present. I have a question for you all. Please raise your hand if you think backbiting takes place at your workplace or place of study. Please raise your hand. Wow! OK, thank you very much. It’s not exact, but I think about 90% of you raised your hand.

In ancient Greece, the great philosopher Socrates met an acquaintance on the street, and the acquaintance said, “Hey, Socrates, have you heard the latest news about your friend?”

And Socrates says, “No, but before you tell this news, I want you to pass a little test. It’s called the triple-filter test”

“The triple-filter test?”, he said. “OK”

“First question: Do you know what you’re going to tell me about my friend, is it true?”

“Oh, no I just heard it. I don’t know.”

“OK. You can still pass the test. The second question: Is it anything good you’re going to tell me about my friend?”

“Oh, no On the contrary,” he said “Nothing good”.

“OK. You may still pass the test. The third question: What you’re going to tell me, is it useful?”

“Oh, no It’s not useful.

“OK,” Socrates said “First of all, you don’t know if it’s true. Second, it’s nothing good. Third of all, it’s nothing useful. Why bother tell me?”

Do you know who, in our society today, that backbites? Yes. Women. It’s women. It’s another major group, as well. Namely, men.

And why do we backbite? When I backbite, I’ve got this feeling of elevating myself, while talking other people down. In an additional bonus, I seem interesting because I’ve got some juicy information that you don’t have. This is how we, as adults, are bullying each other.

I have a second question for you. Please raise your hand if you want to work in a place where there is no backbiting going on. No gossip. OK, thank you very much.

It’s interesting, right? How to get a permanent end to backbiting? I have done one genius thing in my life. I think this is it. I call it “Gossip 2016,” and this is how you can all apply it in your workplace, if you want to.

First of all, you gather a group. Perhaps, not as many as you are. Second of all, you ask the first question: “Do you believe backbiting takes place here?”, and they will raise their hand. Third, you need to define what backbiting is. Use this triple-filter test. It’s good, right?

Fourth, ask the second question: “Would you like to work in a workplace where there’s no backbiting?”, and they will raise their hand.

Then, you get a good old-fashioned flipboard, and you capitalize “Gossip 2016,” and you ask your group if they want to join a project that will last for six months: “No Backbiting Takes Place Here”. And they will sign. This is what obligates them.

After they sign it, you get this sheet in a glass and frame, you put it on a wall where everybody can see it, and for every week, for the next six months, you ask the group, “How are we doing with Gossip 2016?” This may seem simple, maybe naive. Too good to be true, right? But it works! I know! And I have over — I don’t have, but it’s over 250 CEOs in different companies that could verify this. It works.

They could also tell you that absenteeism, sick leave, goes down, and fractionation is minimized, and the productivity is increasing. If you take this concept a bit further, you all heard about the discussions about how young people and children are being bullied at school and on social media. I think that I, as an adult, have the responsibility to be a good role model.

I have to stop talking negatively about my uncle, about my neighbor, about my colleague, about my mother-in-law, around the dinner table at home, because, if I don’t do that, I’m actually saying to my children, it’s OK to talk negatively about the third person that’s not there. New consciousness commits.

Thank you for your attention.


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