This post about the negative aspects of positive thinking inspired me to write today. It reminded me of a horrendous situation I faced almost two decades ago that caused me to leave a job I loved.
Although stories are brilliant, this is a long one so here’s the abridged version:
I had a job I loved but things changed and I ended up with two bosses. One was awesome and I thought the sun shone out of his rear end. The other was dismissive and arrogant as far as I was concerned. Sadly, the shiny one worked thousands of miles away and the arrogant one worked 3 steps away from my desk.
Gradually, I got more and more disheartened in my job. I felt belittled, overlooked, disregarded and more and more disgruntled.
Arrogant boss used a ‘no news is good news’ strategy – as long as I was being ignored, I was to consider that a good thing. If I asked to meet with him, he’d arrange his next meeting so he’d have to cut mine short (his PA told me this) and during our brief meetings, he rarely listened to anything I said. When he arrived in the morning, despite passing my desk to get to his office, he wouldn’t even bother to greet me. How rude! I’d think. Typical! I didn’t have to look far for proof that he was a massive A-hole and I finally conceded and found another job.
People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.
This quote is true for many people. It was certainly true for me and I probably don’t need to give you any more examples of Mr Arrogant’s behaviour for you to see why I might have left. But I’ve omitted a crucial element of the story. I haven’t told you about my behaviour.
During that time, I became a brat. I completely forgave myself my own bad behaviour because, in my mind, it was his fault. The way I saw it, I wouldn’t have behaved so badly if he had treated me better. The trouble with this sort of thinking is that it perpetuates the negative experiences on both sides.
I found out years later that Mr Arrogant was the mask. Mr Stressed was behind the mask. My boss was under massive pressure to get big results for the company and he was doing all he could to hold everything together. Looking through that lens, the behaviour I judged so harshly – and used to excuse my own poor behaviour – looks completely different. It also makes me a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.
Of course there are workplace bullies and people who are mean for the hell of it but I’m pretty sure there are more situations like this one – where a change in behaviour from either person would lead to an improved relationship.
Remembering that part of my life made me think about how much I’ve learned about people, relationships and personal power. If I had it to do over again, I would offer myself this advice:
STEP 1: Assume the negative behaviour has little do with you
“Don’t take it personally” isn’t enough. Deliberately tell yourself there’s a reason for someone’s negative behaviour – and you are not it!
STEP 2: Pay Attention
By assuming you are not the reason, you’re free to explore what else might be going on. The most common reasons include:
- Lack of confidence
- Fear of failure
- Stress or worry
- Lack of self-awareness
- Lack of understanding / narrow experience
STEP 3: Find a way to help
It helps to think of adults as toddlers who have learned the ability to mask their feelings.
You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better.
Applying this idea to adults can really help!
Think of any disagreement you’ve ever had. Has it ever resolved by one of you making the other feel worse?
Once you have an idea about what might be causing the problem, you can tailor your behaviour to help the other person do better. You don’t even have to be exactly right about the cause. You just have to let your choice guide you to behave helpfully towards the other person. This creates a space for them to behave differently towards you.
Can you pay attention in ways that boost confidence? Can you help them succeed? Can you help reduce their stress? Can you overlook their lack of skill and demonstrate your own in ways that might inspire them? Can you build their curiosity about issues that are important to you? Asking these questions allows you to shape your behaviour in ways that change the dynamic of the relationship.
STEP 4: Be patient
Things don’t change from one or two or even ten conversations. Improving a relationships takes time and commitment.
A lot of the time, you’ll feel like it isn’t working or isn’t worth it.
STEP 5: Help them understand how you do your best
This is a tough one to get right. Most people offer feedback in ways that make the other person ‘wrong’. We use a formula similar to, “When you…. I feel….. because…..” We highlight the other person’s failing in an effort to make them change.
Instead, just ask for what you need. “Can you…?”, “Would you mind…?”
I use this rule a lot in my marriage. Years ago – before we were even married – my husband said, “You expect me to read your mind and then you get pissy when I get it wrong. Just ask me.” It is one of the most profoundly useful pieces of advice he has given me.
BEFORE step 1: AM I WILLING….?
Am I willing
At this time
To make the investment required
To make a positive difference
Now that you know how much time and effort it will take, Marshall Goldsmith’s AIWATT question is one you should ask before you start.
If you’re not willing to make the investment, you’re facing a different set of choices. If you decide you are willing to make the investment, remember it’s a commitment to a long process.
The conversation is the relationship. One conversation at a time, you are building, destroying or flatlining your relationship.
Who can you help treat you better?