“We begin and end our days as stories.”
spray-painted on the side of house as seen from LA’s Metro Rail, the Expo line.
My friend Melanie (names changed) works for one of LA County’s supervisors. She is good at what she does because how she does what she does is so common sense to her that she doesn’t fully appreciate just how remarkable she is. Recently, though, a constituent helped remind her.
Melanie returned the call of a constituent who needed help. Part of her job is to handle the requests, complaints and needs of the Supervisor’s constituents. When Melanie got hold of the person and told him that she was calling from the Supervisor’s office, the man thought she was pranking him! Stunned that someone actually was responding to the message he left, he assured Melanie that he’d vote for the Supervisor in the next election.
That is customer service. That is Melanie.
For Melanie, that’s her job. Why wouldn’t she have gotten back to the man? Why wouldn’t she try to help him?
That’s also why Melanie is frustrated with her co-workers – whose standards for customer service significantly differ from hers.
“Everyone” knows Melanie is holding the office together. Everyone knows the guys are good ole boys who know how to work the system. They’re not backstabbing or malicious. They’re guys who have learned how to charm people into tolerating their not always professional ways.
Throughout a recent dinner Melanie peppered the conversation with the phrases:
- I shouldn’t have to
- We’re all adults
- I resent having to.
- The older you get the easier life should be
- I’m tired of playing games
These are phrases I hear from too many of my clients.
In our last session, Steve reminded me that he is:
- All used up
- Running on empty
- Tired of being treated like sh*t
Gretchen, a university professor, told me that she is “so angry with them (administrators), at their pettiness and meanness,” that she is going to use her anger to “fuel what I do in the classroom – I’ll show them!”
All three people are worn down by colleagues who get away with outrageous behavior and are rewarded in spite of that unprofessional behavior.
Melanie, Steve and Gretchen keep intoning like a mantra, “It shouldn’t be this way.”
And they are right– it shouldn’t be this way.
BUT loudly proclaiming that “It shouldn’t be this way” changes NOTHING.
Most of us work alongside some people who are wonderfully creative and diligent at what they do. Most of us also work alongside some people who are damaged, who are startlingly spoiled, emotionally unbalanced, scarred and scared. The behavior of those undisciplined people can make life seem unbearable for us.
I’m reminded of a quote from Morris West’s “Shoes Of The Fisherman”
It costs so much to be fully human that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price. One has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms open. One has to embrace the world like a lover. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to count doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.
I know – it is a dramatic statement.
I’m convinced, though, that in order to succeed and thrive and stay sane in the workplace we need to practice Emotional Courage.
To be emotionally courageous means you practice being brave and smart and strategic.
7 Strategies For Managing Colleagues Sapping Your Energy
- Recognize what you’re feeling. At the end of the meal I asked Melanie how she felt. She began by saying, “I think. . .” I interrupted her, again asking, “No – how do you feel?” She paused and then said, “I feel incompetent.” Battered tears followed. Feel what you feel because you can’t choose what to do with your feelings until you feel them.
- Understand that saying “should” is not like saying “Abracadabra.” There is no magic in the word “should.” The list goes on and on in terms of how life “should” be. Clinging to “should” paralyzes us. There is a difference between being “right” and being “effective.” Figure out how to be more effective.
- Do you know what you’re willing to tolerate? Can you tolerate it without it taking a toll on you and your personal relationships?
- What would you like to see happen differently? What have you done to bring about that change? Dismissing the validity of tactics before trying them out is not being proactive!
- We all do what we do and say what we say for a reason. Can you gain any insight into why the other person is doing or saying whatever it is they’re doing and saying that triggers you?
- We train people how to treat us. We give people permission to treat us in a certain way. How have you trained colleagues to treat you? Tom is an assistant editor with a TV show. His boss, Lucy, is quick-tempered and likes to fire off demanding emails. Actually, she likes telling Tom to fire off demanding emails. At first he did because she’s his boss. He got tired, though, of taking the heat. He’s now learned to counter her order by suggesting she run the complaint by the director first. The director can deal with Lucy in a way Tom can’t and Tom’s life is less stressful.
- What do you want? What is your ultimate goal professionally? Do not let the dysfunctionality of your current position cause you to lose sight of your goal. Double your efforts. Who can help you reach that goal? Ask. Ask for their help. Wishing makes nothing happen.
Melanie had her fair share of “Yes, but” moments in our conversation. I’m going to presume that you do, too! But what are your options?
- Play martyr at work and at home. Richly satisfying but will reduce the number of loved ones willing to hang out with you.
- Practice new ways of interacting with colleagues. Change the dance steps. Not all will have an impact. That’s okay. What’s important is that you resist relying on your default setting.
- Plan for a new position within the company. Is there a place where your talents can be better utilized and recognized?
- Quit your job. If conditions are toxic this may be the best option.
Practicing Emotional Courage means you –
- Embrace who you are
- Learn how to protect yourself
- Practice new strategies
- Pursue goals with laser focus
Is that exhausting? At times, sure!
But what is the alternative?
No, really – what is the alternative?