Pettiness is a bugaboo and no organization is safe from it. Pettiness is like germs—just everywhere—our homes, jobs, churches, alumni associations, professional organizations, and definitely our Greek chapters. When it comes to Greek life, the petty is extraordinarily real.
In Greek life, we make significant emotional investments in our letters so we tend to react to situations with our feelings before we think. That doesn’t make us bad people, it makes us human beings who are passionate about something we love. At the same time, we are leaders so we are responsible for conducting ourselves accordingly. We have to figure out, therefore, how to manage #PettyLaBelle in the chapter if we want progress.
The trick is to understand that pettiness is not simple. PsychTests.com identifies argumentativeness as a common trait in people who act petty. What they found through an emotional intelligence test is that pettiness stems from several qualities:
- A lack of impulse control,
- A lack of resilience,
- Difficulty solving problems,
- Low self-esteem,
- Not being content with life,
- A negative mindset,
- Trouble with self-motivation,
- Being less flexible or inability to adapt to situations, and
- A lack of conflict resolution skills (even if they know how to resolve conflicts).
While we would love for pettiness to be squashed with the simple “stop being petty” directive, we have to realize that pettiness has layers.
A Forbes article, “How Successful People Handle Toxic People”, warns that “The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance.” Greek life is work, so poor performance in a chapter translates to a failure to achieve the mission of your fraternity or sorority. The article goes on to state that 90 percent of top performers do a good job managing their emotions when stuff is about to go down according to TalentSmart.
The enemy of pettiness is consideration so take time to think carefully about how you can manage the situation. Let’s look at how you manage pettiness when it rears its ugly head.
Stay focused on the mission. Your frat brothers or sorors will frustrate you. Accept it; everyone is human. When that happens, remember that you joined your fraternity or sorority to serve your community, promote brotherhood or sisterhood, and achieve academic (and later career) excellence. Set the standard for staying focused on the mission.
Play above the fray. One thing that social media has taught me is discernment is the key to sanity. The Forbes piece has an interesting take on how to take the high road in the face of pettiness. “Quit trying to beat them at their own game,” the article says. “Distance yourself from them emotionally and approach your interactions like they’re a science project. You don’t need to respond to the emotional chaos—only the facts. Establish boundaries.” A friend of mine Zara Green, an alumna of Xavier, once told me, about drama and pettiness,
I just sit back and watch folks like a movie.”
Get your popcorn and carry on.
Stay focused on solutions. As a recruiter, I always tell job seekers that every employer needs problem solvers. If you see that your chapter brothers or sorors have issues with conflict resolution, then it’s your job to stay positive and focused. Remember that you are all a chain with several links and sometimes you have to be the strongest link. That’s part of the deal in Greek life.
Realize that people are the way they are for a reason. Although you are presumably great leaders, you are not infallible. Your frat or soror may be trying to deal with issues outside of Greek life and/or school. In that case, remember that the very essence of brotherhood or sisterhood is being available and supportive and your frat or soror may not know how to express their feelings. Try to help, and let them know how valuable they are to the chapter.
Don’t try to “win” every discussion. This was a really tough one for me in college because I was so proud and idealistic. The downside of having strong leadership skills and personalities is being supremely confident that we are right…about everything. Petty people operate in a continuous loop of problems; so the closer you get to “winning” a discussion, the more problems petty people create just to make sure you don’t win. Eventually, you come across as just as petty as the petty people. The best policy is to focus on resolving conflict rather than winning arguments. Don’t look at it as taking the “L” if you intend to help the chapter win.
Pettiness is complicated and being in a fraternity or sorority means dealing with complicated people issues in close quarters. This is where the Greek life adage “The real work starts after you pledge” applies big time. We can’t stop pettiness, we can only manage it so we have to be leaders. Our chapters cannot do big things if they are influenced by small-minded interactions.