I received this email from a viewer last week:
I’m hoping you can help. I am so mad and need someone to tell me how I can fix this situation. My boss is constantly missing in action. He swoops in once a week, throws tons of things at me to do and he is off again. When I send him an email it takes days for him to get back to me. I feel overwhelmed. He should respect me enough, and the job I do for him, to slow down to see what questions I might have or even give a flip how I am. He doesn’t seem to care and I’m starting to feel the same way. What can I do to get him to start respecting me more?
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation. In today’s workplace leaders are asked to manage others along with having a long task list of their own to complete. They are sometimes so focused on the things they have on their checklist that they forget that the most important job they have is to support and develop others on their team. There’s that, which is an explanation of the poor behavior. It’s not a solution though, and Teresa wanted a solution. Unfortunately, she was asking the wrong questions to herself and me. With questions designed to focus on the problem, finding the root cause to fix the issue permanently would never be found.
In David Emerald’s work, TED* The Empowerment Dynamic, the main model states that what we focus on drives our inner state that leads to our behaviors. When we’re focused on the problem our anxiety goes up and we react with a fight, flight, freeze or appease mentality. That type of thinking will help us if we’re running away from a bear in the woods, but doesn’t do much when we have a complex challenge with multiple components. When we have that type of problem, we need to focus on what we want, or the vision, use our passion to motivate us to take the sometimes difficult baby steps to move in our desired direction.
In Fred Kofman’s book, Conscious Business, How to Build Value Through Values, he explains the questions we ask ourselves when we are focused on the problem and not on the vision or outcome we want to achieve. They are:
- What happened to me?
- Who’s to blame for it?
- Why did they do it to me?
- What should they have done instead?
- What should they do now to repair the damage?
- What punishment do they deserve for doing it?
These types of questions are common when we’re talking to ourselves and many times are the types of questions we ask our friends, family, and coworkers when they are faced with a problem. Like a gerbil on a wheel, when you ask yourself or someone else these questions you simply run round and round on the wheel and never find the solution. When you ask these questions to yourself or are being asked by someone else your anxiety goes up and you probably end up fighting with someone about it, avoiding the conflict and trying to forget about it, spend a lot of time analyzing the situation to death, or appeasing everyone to try and “rescue” everyone and yourself from the tension. Can you picture yourself doing this? I know I have.
To discover the solution to a challenge you must first see yourself as part of the problem. This might sound crazy to some of you. “See myself in the problem. You clearly don’t understand what I just told you. He dumps on me. He doesn’t get back to me. He is rude and uncaring to me. How am I part of the problem and how in the heck could that help things for me to think that way?” If you can’t understand how you might have contributed to the problem, in any way, how are you going to feel empowered enough to be part of the solution?
To solve something that is challenging you (code for: a problem that is a pain in your toocus and it is disrupting your work or home life) start with asking yourself these questions.
- What challenge did you face?
- How might you have contributed (inadvertently) to the situation through action, inaction or tolerance? (starting to get the picture?)
- What response did you choose?
- Could you have responded more effectively? (with more dignity?)
- Could you have prepared better to mitigate the risks?
- What would you ideally like to have happen?
- Is there something you can do now to improve the situation?
- What can you learn from this?
After going through each of the questions with rigorous honesty you’ll perhaps become more clear on what you want and what you need to do differently to help you find the solution.
For our friend, Teresa, who wrote me, my suggestion, after answering the questions, is to schedule a conversation, sometimes known as a “sweaty” conversation, with her boss. Show respect and empathy for the situation he may be in. Let him know what her intention is – to get him what he needs with the level of standards she likes to perform at. To do that, she needs to explain what she wants and needs, knowing that there may be some negotiation involved so that the resolution is one they both feel motivated to execute for one another. Leave the “should” library at the door. Thinking that things “should” be different than they are or he “should” be a certain way is ignoring current reality which is never helpful.
This might seem a little time-consuming. After all, you are already overwhelmed with work. If you just forgot about it and did your job…. STOP! Trying to forget about it or “quitting the job” is WAY more time consuming than the 10-minute sweaty conversation, I promise you.
You are strong, smart and extremely capable or you wouldn’t have read this far. Go forth this week and conquer!