We all know the term "war monger," but what is a "peace-monger?" How could something as "nice" as peace be associated with a pejorative term like "monger?"
Well, I wish I could say I made the term up, but alas, I did not. A "peace-monger," according to Edwin Friedman, is …
"… a highly anxious risk-avoider, someone who is more concerned with good feelings than with progress, someone whose life revolves around the axis of consensus, a 'middler,' someone who is so incapable of taking well-defined stands that His 'disability' seems to be genetic, someone who functions as if she had been filleted of her backbone, someone who encounters conflicts or anxiety like mustard gas – one whiff, on goes the emotional gas mask, and he flits. often 'nice,' if not charming " ( A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, by Edwin Friedman, Seabury Books, 1996).
When put like that, it does not sound too attractive, does it? While peace-mongers may appear to be working against negativity, volatility and reactivity in the work place, their efforts are actually very reactive . And one has to ask: at what cost to themselves, and to the organization, do they keep the peace? What hard conversations are postponed – that individuals and organizations really need to engage in – for the sake of a temporary sense of peace?
It's really a question of one's pain threshold. By that I mean, one's relative ability to tolerate pain in someone else (not in a sadistic way), and the amount to which someone else's pain determines one's own pain level. Huh?
Think of it like this: Bill is thoroughly intimidated by his boss. He tells Glenda how intimidated he is, is clearly stressed out about it, and is losing sleep, hair, and his appetite. Something needs to happen to change things, and several options exist. He could suck it up. He could quit. He could pray that his boss moves on. He could work on self-confidence, or a healthier sense of his own competency. He could have a hard conversation with his boss.
Or … say Glenda is a peace monger … he could let her take his pain upon herself, and deal with it for him. Why would she do this? Because she has a low threshold for pain, and it must be lowered at any cost. Glenda will therefore do something to bring the pain in Bill (and there before the pain in her own self) down. She might crack a joke at just the right time. She might tell Bill all the things he could do until he finally relents and chooses one. She might skip a level and tell someone higher up about Bill's boss. She might have a hard conversation with the boss on behalf of Bill. She might do a lot of things – all with the intention of lowering Bill's pain, and therefore her own.
Meanwhile, who will have benefited from Glenda's peace-mongering? The boss? Bill? Glenda? Others who might be dealing with the same issues? If you're tracking with me, it'd be "no" to all of the above (with the exception of very fleeting relief from pain … the return of which is inevitable).
What to do ?!
There are no shortcuts to peace-mongering's alternative, but there is good work that can be done by Bill and / or by Glenda to choose a different way. The behavior of any one person does not determine the path that Bill or Glenda takes – unless they let it.
A big part of that good work is the process of "self-definition." Knowing who you are and what you're about has the single biggest effect on your ability to non-anxiously deal with whomever might otherwise derail you, or with raising your pain threshold around those who are not well self-defined.
A great coach will help you become more self-defined. A self-defined person who is able to step outside the emotional climate of the workplace – while maintaining relationships with those still in it – will emerge a leader in that environment, whether they appear to be on the org chart, or not.