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Stamping out the crab mentality

by Shaun Fuentes


Crabs in a bucket is referred to as the crab mentality. We know it more as “Crabs in a barrel”. It is best described by the phrase, “If I can’t make it, neither can you”. Working together as a team, the crabs could easily escape from the bucket. Instead, the crabs grab one another and pull the other one down. When you pull down others, you also keep yourself down on the bottom of the ladder. One of the major pluses or advantages of international travel or being able to gain experience overseas is getting to observe or engage in different cultures and styles of business, sport or any form of life. During a recent outing abroad I came across a book entitled Crabology: How to Recognize and Overcome the Crab Mentality in Yourself and Others. It tells you about humanity and our interactions with others. It brings to light the attitudes that hinder our individual and collective progress. It offers insight into how to overcome the negative forces that hinder our progress.


It further states:Crabology: the study of the mental attitude, language and actions of individuals within a culture who refuse to support others in their efforts to better themselves, their community, and/or their organization(s) While offering advice to others, it is suggested that there are two options that they would experience while climbing the ladder. The first choice was to help people all along the way, and the other choice was not help others, thereby getting caught up in “the crab bucket.” The crab mentality theory broadly associates with being shortsighted, non-constructive thinking, rather than a unified, team-approach and long-term constructive mentality. Though we much prefer not to discuss the topic, the fact is it is something that we face daily. And it’s not just in Trinidad and Tobago or the Caribbean but across different societies. And while we may prefer to turn a blind eye to it, it is also present in the sporting sector and obvious to many. The Filipino-American adoptive mother of Chess Grandmaster Wesley So, Lotus Key indicated that the different culture backgrounds between her and So is what sets them apart. “I am more American. I am naturally fearless and confident,” Lotus said last December “I always try to be the best. [Wesley] is more Filipino. “Growing up in the Philippines, there is a very deep crab mentality that holds people back, like no one should ever be better than his friends. No one should aim high. Exact opposite of mentality in the States.” It is a lot easier to climb up and out of the bucket or move the football down the field when all of your teammates are working together towards the same goal. Crab mentality is common not just in the workplace, but in our everyday lives. There is always someone who treats us as competition and would not like to see us grow in our craft. But inspite of that, we all should be motivated to improve our performance in the sport arena or the workplace. We should try our best to improve ourselves professionally, to move up. While there are factors that hinder us from performing well, including lack of growth, lack of benefits, low compensation, cultural differences, and poor working environment, it is widely believed and proven that it is someone’s mindset that hinders progress.

Many believe there is no quick solution to this problem. There is the traditional approach where senior staff come first - they have more experiences and knowledge about the work. Traditional top-down management styles reinforce this fact in the way decisions are made. However, it is also felt that if a bottom-up management style is adopted, it can challenge the younger staff to share and collaborate, resulting in higher employee involvement and increased job satisfaction. Because employees are treated as partners who are involved in decision making, their motivation and commitment is increased, ensuring their contribution to the organization’s well-being. Barry Shannon, who served as head of HR at StatSports summed it up ideally for me. "First look at your culture. Ask yourself if you promote the right behaviours, attitudes and ethics? Do you see your company as high performing, and have you ensured that this is ingrained in your staff?" he stated. You might have seen it on a sports team, with some players reluctant to pass the ball to a player who could outshine them, get more praise or perhaps move on to a bigger team. You might see diligent trainers who want to push themselves onward be ridiculed or unable to train constructively because others discourage their efforts or actively disrupt the session by messing around.We all sit in buckets of some variety. Whatever the situation, the process of actively holding people back from achieving more, simply to reinforce the low bar status quo can be incredibly toxic and destructive. It can also be very difficult to overcome. For the sports coach, or work manager, the first and most important tool to counter this is to be aware of the phenomena in the first place and be able to spot it happening. That way you can then take steps to address the problem. When it comes to looking at our culture, as advised by Shannon, we need to look at whether we recruit people with positive traits that contribute to that type of culture; and when you bring them onboard, reinforce this from day one and throughout their career: socialising the principles accordingly. Do we put responsibility on staff to act the right way? Do we challenge them if they are not. Ask if your coaches, directors, managers and team leaders all walk the walk accordingly. If not, then it needs to be addressed before it's too late. It needs to be driven from the top. Do staff feel able to call colleagues out for poor behaviour (with manners, obviously)? If they don't, figure out why not and empower them to do so. "Celebrate wins and successes as a team. While there may be a figurehead, or one person who contributed most, make sure the people who played a supporting role are also recognised. That way you start to create a ‘one wins, everybody wins' mentality, where everyone in the team can feel they have been able to contribute positively to success," Shannon states. Unless we strive for better, we will never advance, grow and succeed. Crabs don't know that. We should.

"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else." – Booker T. Washington

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