You Hate Your Job
One day I met with a man named John, who complained that he hated his job: hated the work, hated his co-workers, hated his boss, hated the whole thing. And he wanted to know what kind of job I thought he should look for. Instead of exploring that particular avenue, I asked him questions about his life. He had never received Real Love as a child, his marriage was falling apart, he was struggling badly as a parent, and he was miserable overall. No surprise there. Being empty and afraid, he naturally used Getting and Protecting Behaviors at work with virtually every breath he took. Of course, that alienated him from his co-workers, his boss, his customers, and his direct reports. No wonder he hated work.
I suggested that he read a couple of books on Real Love and watch a DVD, and that was the beginning of a process of gradual but dramatic change for him. After several months, as he filled up with that one element that had been missing all his life, he had changed a lot. His emptiness and fear gradually disappeared, and then his Getting and Protecting Behaviors no longer had any use.
One day he called me to say, “I’m really enjoying my job. The work is interesting, I like my co-workers, and my boss and I get along like old friends.”
I laughed and asked, “You’re still at the same job, right?”
“Yes,” he said. “It turns out that the problem was really me, not everybody else.”
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You Argue With Your Co-workers
Allow me to share a letter I received from a woman who had become a member of RealLove.com several months before:
"I have to tell you what Real Love did for me at work recently. I had a series of very unpleasant interactions with one of my co-workers. She is famous for being critical, and almost everyone avoids talking to her, because she makes people miserable. After we argued one day, I talked with the woman who supervises both me and the critical woman. My boss said, 'Just stay away from her. You have to realize that some people will just be impossible all their lives.'
"At first that seemed like good advice, but then I just didn’t feel good about it. So I thought it over and went to this woman and simply apologized for the mistakes I had made in our interactions, without mentioning anything she had ever done wrong. Then I asked what I could do to help her, because I could tell that she was under a lot of stress. She started crying and said that she always hated herself when she treated me badly. In just a few minutes, all the hurt feelings and tension between us was gone. It was kind of miraculous, really. And since then we’ve been getting along much better.
"I’m amazed at the confidence I feel now from knowing that I don’t have to be trapped by difficult people. When I choose to be different, everything can be different. I feel powerful and free."
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Employees Argue With You
As a consultant, I had an opportunity to learn of the following interaction between Mark, a senior technician, and Brian, his immediate supervisor. The numbers indicated were provided by the participants some time after the interaction.
With obvious impatience Brian walked up to Mark’s desk and asked, “Are you finished with that report yet?”
“I’m working on it as fast as I can!” Mark snapped, with fire flashing from his eyes. “I’ll give it to you when I’m ready.”
When Mark turned back to his computer, Brian stomped back to his office.
When we consider the well-being of a corporation, we often examine profits and other quantifiable indicators, but the health of an organization is really composed of all the “little” interactions that happen uncounted times every day between the people who work there—like the one between Mark and Brian. If enough of these interactions are unhealthy, that organization will falter.
By itself this interaction between Mark and Brian might appear to be minor, but let’s look at its consequences. Notice that all of these have a significant negative impact on the function and profitability of a company:
- From personal experience we all know that when we feel offended by someone, we don’t do our best work for that person—we’re far too busy feeling hurt and defending ourselves. Mark was offended that Brian was being demanding and critical, so Mark responded, quite unconsciously, by working on the report even slower than before—65% slower, in fact.
- When Brian attended the meeting where Mark’s report was needed, Mark didn’t have all his figures together, and his lack of preparation was one factor in losing a valuable account.
- Attitudes don’t come with nicely defined borders or time limits. Once the report was completed, Mark continued to harbor ill feelings toward Brian, so he worked less than diligently on other projects also. This decreased his overall productivity by 35% compared with former levels, which was 45% less than the output of comparable employees. Of course, he always had elaborate justifications for his lack of performance, but these excuses didn’t reduce his waste of company time and money.
- Mark diligently avoided Brian: He never spoke to him unless spoken to first, he was slow to answer Brian’s emails, and he often ignored Brian’s phone messages entirely. This affected the ability of both men to do their jobs.
- Mark often withheld information that Brian needed to make decisions about marketing and product modification.
- Mark talked negatively about Brian to other employees, wasting company time and infecting company morale like an insidious virus.
- The constant state of tension with Mark created a condition of wariness and defensiveness in Brian that he carried into his interactions with other employees. Gradually, the level of contention in the entire office increased.
- When people feel offended, they almost always acquire a sense of entitlement—a feeling that they deserve to be “repaid” for their injuries. In this way, Mark felt justified in making personal copies, surfing the Internet, and making personal long distance calls on company time and equipment.
Conflicts like this between Mark and Brian are so common that they hardly even stand out. In virtually every company I’ve investigated I’ve discovered many
- employees who just can’t seem to get along with others.
- employees who resist direction.
- employees who consume a vastly disproportionate amount of their managers’ time.
- managers who are at their wits’ ends about how to deal with some of their direct reports.
- workers who exude an attitude of simmering discontent.
- managers who are resisted and disliked by most of those they supervise.
- employees who consistently create obstacles in communication and collaboration.
These problems are far more than inconvenient. They result in
- an enormous loss of expensive employee time. Workers who are embroiled in conflict of any kind can’t possibly be as productive as they might otherwise be.
- an infectious spread of poisonous morale.
- increased employee turnover, which causes a loss of capital (the high cost of employee replacement), a loss of valuable experience, and a further degradation of morale.
- increased absenteeism. Unhappy employees are far more likely to call in sick or simply not show up.
work-related injuries. Angry workers are much more likely to become involved in accidents than those who are calm and able to concentrate on their work.
- a loss of vital communication.
- a negative effect on relations with customers.
- a considerable loss of time for managers. Ideally, managers should be occupied with encouraging, uplifting, motivating, coordinating, and training, but their time for these highly productive activities is greatly limited when they are distracted—both physically and emotionally—by dealing with endless crises.
In short, these “little” conflicts have a massive impact on the corporate bottom line, so we cannot afford to allow them to continue. We must become as zealous in solving human problems as we are in attending to the breakdown of necessary equipment, for example, or the interruption of the flow of vital information.
THE REAL CAUSE OF OUR FEELINGS IN THE WORKPLACE
In our quest to understand the real causes of conflict and poor communication, let’s turn again to Mark and Brian. I separately interviewed both men, who finally agreed that during their interaction they had been irritated. This is important to recognize, because when people are angry at us, we tend to defend ourselves rather than listen to them and cooperate with them.
The moment each man felt the anger of the other, any chance of a productive conversation flew out the window. They both agreed with me on this point, but they differed completely regarding the cause of their irritation. Mark was certain that his anger was caused by the accusatory way that Brian asked, “Are you finished with that report yet?” Brian, on the other hand, was adamant that he was annoyed only because Mark consistently obstructed the completion of any task, and because Mark responded with irritation when Brian “only asked” about the report. In other words, each man was certain that the other man had caused his anger.
So, who was right? What was the real reason for their conflict? Until we accurately answer that question—not just for Mark and Brian but for all of us who are involved in similar interactions—this kind of conflict in the workplace is guaranteed to continue, causing enormous damage to employee morale and to productivity and profitability. Allow me to illustrate the answer with a brief story involving two scenes.
In the first scene, imagine that you’re enjoying a great day at work. As we pass each other in a corridor, I inadvertently bump into you, at which point you stop walking, turn, and greet me. We enjoy a brief conversation and part company.
In the second scene, imagine that a week later you’re on a beautiful beach, taking a nap in the sun. After sleeping more soundly than you’d intended, you awake hours later to discover that you’re severely sunburned from head to toe. Through the night the pain increases, and by the time you arrive at work the next day, you’re quite uncomfortable. As you’re standing by a filing cabinet, I walk by and again bump into you inadvertently. As pain shoots through your body, you rapidly back away from me and slam into a corner of the cabinet. Now there’s an explosion of pain, and you angrily turn toward me and demand to know how I could be so thoughtless.
At this point, you’re blaming me for both your pain and anger, and that seems to make sense: After all, before I walked by, you were coping well enough, but the moment I bumped you, your pain increased dramatically, followed by an eruption of anger. Obviously, then, I must have caused both your pain and anger, right? No.
The truth is, in both scenes I was guilty of bumping you, but that’s all I did. In the first scene you actually responded by greeting me pleasantly. In the second scene, the same behavior on my part was followed by pain and anger only because of your choice to lie in the sun for hours on the day before, and I had nothing to do with that. I did not cause your pain. To be fair, I did add somewhat to your pain, but if you had not chosen to lie in the sun, my touching you would have been insignificant.
In the second scenario, you made a choice to blame me for your pain. Had you been honest, you would have focused on your own responsibility for the sunburn and dismissed my part in the event. You might even have made yet another mental note not to sleep on the beach again.
Similarly, Mark and Brian reacted badly to each other only because they were already “sunburned.” In that painful condition, the slightest inconvenience or insult became more than they could bear. This condition of chronic pain is quite common us. After interviewing thousands of people, I can state with confidence that 98-99% of us feel sunburned most of the time, which has a pervasive effect on our relationships in the workplace and everywhere else.
What then is the cause of this sunburn we carry with us wherever we go? Why are we so susceptible to injury, offense, and conflict? Why do we take criticism and anger so personally? What is the wound that has such a profound influence on the way we interact with people in the workplace? Learn the answers to these questions by downloading the free Workplace Report.
Your Talents Are Not Fully Appreciated
As I walked into the room, it was obvious that Jack was unhappy, so I asked him what was wrong.
“My boss is such a @#%& jerk,” he said.
“In what way?” I asked.
“I do good work. I do a lot more than just put in my time. I’m creative and far more productive than most people, but my boss doesn’t seem to appreciate what I do at all. Never a thank you or recognition or respect, and sometimes he takes credit for the work I’ve done. I think he actually avoids me. It’s not fair, and I’m tired of it.”
“Do they pay you at work?”
“Do you accept the paycheck they offer?”
“When you do that, you agree to do the work they give you in exchange for what they pay you. Is there anything in your contract that promises you gratitude or respect or kindness?
“Well, no, but—”
“Now, it’s true that it would be nice if your boss were more appreciative and sensitive—a good leader would be—but he’s not. And he doesn’t have to be.”
“But he’s nice to some people—people who do less than I do—and that’s not fair.”
“Actually, what’s fair is that you receive what you were promised, and you already said you get paid. It might be true that he treats some people better than others, but that’s his choice. He gets to choose his own friends. It’s actually fair that he gets to make that choice. Certainly you can’t make it for him. You call it unfair only because you’re not getting what you want. Now, why do you suppose that he treats some people better?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Are you irritated by your boss?”
“Just during our conversation it’s pretty obvious that you are, and that’s when he’s not around. I’m guessing that when he’s being difficult around you, you get even more irritated. When we’re irritated at people, they really do feel our irritation, whether we mean to show it or not. When you’re around him, you’re angry and you act like a victim. I’m guessing you also tend to avoid him, right? We do tend to avoid people we don’t like.”
“That’s probably true. I don’t like being around him.”
“So you’re using at least three Getting and Protecting Behaviors with him, and each one conveys the message I don’t love you. I promise you that he feels all that. By comparison, some of the other people at work are not angry at him. I’m guessing that they even kiss up to him, right?”
“Yes, and it’s disgusting.”
“Maybe, but you need to understand the effect it has on your boss. It should be obvious that he’s not filled with Real Love, yes?”
“So if he doesn’t have enough Real Love it’s only natural that he would like the people who give him the greatest quantity of Imitation Love. When people kiss up to him, they make him feel worthwhile and important. They give him praise, power, and a sense of safety. You, on the other hand, are irritated by him and avoid him, so not only do you fail to give him Imitation Love, but you tell him you don’t like him. So is it any wonder that he likes them better than he likes you? I am not saying you should change your behavior, just explaining why he acts like he does. You’re seeing all this as unfair only because you’re in pain yourself and because you need your boss’s acceptance, which you’re not getting.”
As Jack realized that he was acting like a victim, he began to change how he saw his boss’s behavior. After we had additional discussions about Real Love, he saw his boss as a man who was unloved, empty, and afraid, instead of seeing him only as a monster. Jack realized that his boss wasn’t doing anything to him—the victim perspective—but was simply incapable of being loving and sensitive because he lacked sufficient Real Love in his life. Jack also realized that the way he behaved only made his boss feel more empty and afraid, and then he avoided Jack even more.
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Motivating Your Employees
The list of books and courses that teach the principles of motivation is quite extensive, to the point that our discussions focus on how to motivate people rather than whether they need to be motivated at all. Regrettably, when we talk about people needing to be motivated, we’re also declaring that something is wrong with them, and that affects our ability to lead them. If people need to be motivated, we can be making only one assumption about them: They must be lazy, irresponsible, and otherwise defective. The people we lead feel that attitude.
We don’t need to motivate people. We need only to love, teach, and support them, after which they will behave in the most productive ways they can. If I unconditionally accept you, train you, and support you in every imaginable way, why would you intentionally withhold your talents or skills from me? And yet many managers make the assumption that people are somehow withholding their best, and the people who work for them can feel that. If I make the assumption that you’re lazy and stupid and irresponsible, and that you need to be constantly motivated, how hard will you work for me? Paradoxically, when we approach people with the attitude that they need to be motivated, we strip them of their motivation to succeed.
Now, it’s reasonable for you to ask, “After people have been loved, taught, and supported, are there not some who still fail to perform well?” Yes, there are, so when you’ve done your best to be loving, and to provide training and support, but an employee continues to under perform, one or more of the following three conditions will invariably exist:
- You have put her in the wrong job, and if this is the case, it’s your responsibility to find the right job for her. I did this with the trainer I just described. No matter how I tried to love and support her, she simply did not have the disposition or talents to do the new job I gave her. Her failure was my fault.
- You have not been as loving and supportive as you thought. This is the most common condition when an employee is under performing. Understandably, we like to think that our leadership is never the problem, but in this we are usually self-deceived. The proof is usually in the pudding: On the whole, people really do respond well to good leadership, so when they’re not working well, it’s usually because we have failed as leaders. I have proven this in my own life over and over, as I discovered that employees I thought were “losers” responded beautifully after I learned to love and support them.
- He or she really is lazy and irresponsible. Some people have been sufficiently crippled by emptiness and fear for a lifetime that you cannot get through to them. No matter what you do, they will use the Getting and Protecting Behaviors that will uniformly injure their performance on the job. There is little you can do here but let them go.
With each employee, always make the initial assumption that condition # 1 or # 2 explains under-performance. Why? Because you can do something about these conditions, while if you assume condition #3 is true, you’re finished. Moreover, you have little to lose by making assumption 1 or 2, because if you work to correct your mistakes in those areas, and if you then see no positive response, you can always shift to assumption 3 and terminate the employment of that person.
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You Feel Stressed At Work
Meet Michelle, who was desperately trying to do the work of four people. In part, she was motivated by a desire to help the company, but mostly she continued to inappropriately accept responsibilities because she was terrified of losing the approval of her supervisors if she admitted there was anything she couldn’t do. This was hurting both her and the company.
When the stress and misery were unbearable, Michelle finally called me and asked, “What should I do?”
“Stop lying,” I said gently.
“I’m not lying,” she said, somewhat indignantly.
“Oh, I know you’re not lying intentionally—I didn’t mean to imply that—but you are nonetheless lying at work all the time.”
“I don’t understand.”
I explained to Michelle that she was being dishonest about a number of things:
- Each time her superiors asked her to take on more responsibilities, she agreed in order to please them. But she lied to herself by claiming that her primary motivation was to help the company.
- She also lied to her bosses, because she told them she could do the job, when she knew that with her workload she would do the job poorly.
- When she carried out each task poorly, she told herself another lie: that she was doing as well as anyone could. Now, she was probably performing her duties as well as any one person could under her circumstances, but she was not performing as well as an integrated team of people would, and if she had been honest, a team would have been filling her responsibilities.
Michelle wasn’t failing miserably because of a lack of ability, or loyalty, or hard work. She was failing because she wasn’t telling the truth.
Remarkably, Michelle both understood and accepted what I told her. Remember, I was telling her that she was being dishonest, which most people find difficult to accept, but she was able to hear me because
- she believed that I genuinely understood her situation after she finally told the truth about it. Telling the truth leads to feeling seen (Truth → Seen), which is the first part of a process (Truth → Seen →Accepted → Loved) we discussed earlier in this chapter.
- she felt my complete acceptance of her, despite her mistakes, flaws, and fears: Truth → Seen → Accepted.
- she felt my genuine concern for her well-being, without any agenda of my own, which is the definition of Real Love: Truth → Seen → Accepted → Loved.
I cannot emphasize too strongly how important the above process is. Our success as leaders depends entirely on whether people follow us, and that in turn depends on whether we give them what they need most—whether they feel loved. Period. If the people around us don’t feel loved, we cannot be leaders, regardless of the titles we possess. Without people who willingly follow us and benefit from association with us, we can claim only that we have been appointed to the position of leader, and the position alone is relatively worthless. Having people who report to us does not make us leaders.
“So now what?” asked Michelle.
“It depends on your answer to this question: Do you want things to continue as they have been, or do you want your life and your performance at work to improve?”
“I can’t live like this anymore. I want to change.” Notice that this—the desire to change—is the first of the four steps we take to find Real Love, which we discussed on page 000 of this chapter.
I then helped her with what she might say to her supervisors the next day, including, among other things:
- “I have to tell you that for some time now I have not been honest with you about my performance here at work. I knew there was something wrong, but until yesterday—when I got some executive coaching—I didn’t realize that I was not being honest, and I didn’t realize the problems I was causing.”
- “When I was hired here five years ago, my job was to _____. That was a full-time job then. I have continued to do that full-time job, but now I also ______ and _______ and ________ and _________. I am not here to complain. On each occasion, someone asked me if I’d be willing to take on an additional responsibility, and I’m the one who said I would. I was wrong, but it was more than just a mistake. I was also dishonest, because even though I knew I was at my limit, I told you I could do more. I also lied about why I kept taking on more work. Partly I did want to help the company, but mostly I kept accepting more work because I was afraid of looking bad, and that was a selfish motivation. I didn’t recognize that motivation until yesterday, when my coach pointed it out.”
- “Now I’m in a position where I’m in way over my head. I have far more work than I can do. I come in early, stay late, and take work home, but I still don’t get it done. Worse, I don’t do justice to the work I have. It should be done better than I’m doing it, and I’m not collaborating with other people in the office as I should.”
- “Something needs to be done. The decision is obviously yours, but I see several choices: First, you could get rid of me and try to find someone who can do all this. Second, you could decide that some of the work that I do simply doesn’t need to be done. Third, you could delegate much of what I do to others. Fourth, you could hire additional people to shoulder some of my responsibilities. It’s up to you, but I finally realized that I simply can’t do it. My lies have hurt me and hurt you too.”
Michelle had been worried for years that if she didn’t do all this work, her supervisors would disapprove of her. And until she did tell the truth about herself, how could she ever know how they’d respond? After her being honest, however, she discovered to her surprise that
- her supervisors were horrified to learn how stressed she had been for such a long time.
- they had not known how much the quality of her work had been suffering.
- they expressed not the slightest degree of disapproval but instead felt compassion for her.
- they were embarrassed that they had been so insensitive to her and had not noticed any of this long before she told them.
- they were eager to do whatever it took to both help her and get the work done.
- within a month, the company had hired three additional employees to do the work that she had previously been doing alone.
- she was given a raise immediately.
The bottom line? As a result of Michelle’s telling the truth about herself
- she was much happier on the job.
- she became much happier at home, which had a positive effect on her marriage, her children, and many other relationships.
- her blood pressure dropped, her ulcer disappeared, and she lost weight.
- her direct reports and others began to enjoy working with her much more, which had a profound effect on their job satisfaction.
- absenteeism in the office declined.
- communication between Michelle and her supervisors improved dramatically.
- the overall levels of productivity and profitability in her office improved.
This situation is not an anomaly. Telling the truth about ourselves commonly has this kind of effect in the workplace. Download the Workplace Free Report and learn how to be a more effective leader with less stress.
Gossip is a form of attacking that can significantly undermine the effectiveness of people who are working together. If allowed to continue, it will spread like a vicious poison. Imagine that an employee, Stephanie, comes to you with a complaint that another employee, Lynn, is gossiping about her to everyone in her department. What can you do? You could demand that Lynn stop her gossiping, but then you won’t have addressed the root cause of the behavior, and it will tend to raise its head again. And you will have robbed Stephanie of an opportunity to work this out herself, to become a leader in this situation.
There are many things you could say to Stephanie—the object of the gossip—including some of the following:
- “There is a strong tendency for us to take gossip personally, but that is a huge mistake.”
- “Lynn’s gossip isn’t about you. It’s about her need for a feeling of power. This is not to accuse Lynn of anything, only to understand why she’s behaving as she is.”
- “People gossip only when they’re missing what they really need, which is to feel loved. That is a longstanding condition that has nothing to do with you.”
- “I know you probably feel some temptation to talk to Lynn about her behavior—to tell her that it’s wrong and that you want it to stop. But knowing what you do about Lynn’s emptiness and fear, I hope you can see that confronting her or trying to get her to see her error in any way would be a disaster. What she needs is to feel loved.”
- You could recommend that Stephanie try any or all of the loving behaviors that I suggested for Carol in the section above.
Most people do respond positively to being unconditionally loved—it’s what they’ve been looking for all their lives—but what if Lynn keeps gossiping about Stephanie? That’s where it might be wise for you to step in as a leader and speak to Lynn. After confirming that Lynn is indeed talking about Stephanie, you might include some of the following statements and questions in your discussion with Lynn (selection depending mostly on her receptiveness):
- “I know you want to do what’s best for the company and that you’d want to know if you were doing anything that was hurting the company. That’s why I want to talk to you today, to help you realize your goals, not to criticize you in any way.” Lynn must not feel attacked, or she won’t hear anything you’re trying to tell her.
- “I don’t believe you’re aware of something you’re doing that is hurting the ability of the people who work here to feel united and to work well with each other. It’s having more of a negative effect than you realize.” It will help Lynn not feel accused if you indicate your belief that she’s not doing this intentionally.
- “The issue here isn’t whether you’re talking about Stephanie. We’ve established that, and the details aren’t important. What matters is what you’re willing to do about it.” People tend to get involved in the details of what happened, but these are not important.
- “I’m not the slightest bit annoyed with you. My interest is in helping you change this behavior for your benefit and for the benefit of everyone else here.”
- “Your talking about Stephanie is actually affecting her ability to perform her job, and it establishes a pattern of behavior that I don’t want others to follow. This kind of behavior can consume an organization, so we need to do whatever it takes to stop it as soon as possible.”
- “It is critical that you not feel offended at Stephanie for bringing this up. This issue is affecting the performance of the company, so it had to be addressed, just as we would address any other problem that affected performance. It’s not personal.” People tend to view those who report a problem as a “rat,” so it’s important that this childish perspective be addressed in a mature way.
- “Would you agree that your talking about other people is a problem?” Nothing will change until Lynn can tell the truth about her own problem.
- “I want to address this before it interferes with your ability to continue to work here.” Lynn must understand the possible consequences to her if she continues this behavior. You wouldn’t say this unless she had been resistant to the discussion.
- “Can you give me some examples of your talking about Stephanie?”
- “Gossip is almost never an isolated incident. It’s a pattern. Can you describe occasions when you have talked about other employees? I ask you not to find more blame but to see if you understand fully what you’re doing.”
- “I am not telling you that you have to change your behavior. You can continue to gossip, but you can’t continue to do it here.” Again, you wouldn’t say this unless she had been resistant to the discussion.
- “Can you suggest any steps you’d be willing to take to make this right with Stephanie?”
- “We’ll meet again in two weeks to discuss how you’re progressing on this issue.”
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Endless Lack of Motivation
On occasion, people really cannot identify their own behaviors, especially the unproductive ones. After all, if we’re empty and afraid, we really are blind to many things, often including our own traits. In that case, as leaders we often must fulfill our responsibility to help people see the truth. Our motivation in doing this must be pure, or we will fail as leaders. It can be helpful, for example, to say to the person we’re evaluating, “Please remember that our goal here is twofold: First, to help you enjoy more fully what you do here—a lot more. Second, to help you become more productive. I have no interest in criticizing you personally. Are we agreed that these would be reasonable goals?”
These words cannot be merely spoken with our lips, however. We must genuinely feel and believe them, or people will see us as potential enemies, and the evaluation will then turn into a conflict. All our lives people have pointed out our mistakes in anger, or with a desire to belittle or hurt or control us, and we don’t get over the effects of those moments easily. If, therefore, you feel the slightest bit anxious or disappointed or angry as you are approaching an evaluation, postpone it until you no longer have those feelings.
If you are pointing out to someone a trait that he really doesn’t see—remember, the powers of blindness and self-deception are profound—he will rarely be grateful, as illustrated in the following evaluation of Seth by his supervisor, Kevin.
After several minutes of discussing the successes in Seth’s department, Kevin asked, “Are you having any problems in your department that you’d like to talk about?”
“No,” said Seth, “not really.”
“Seth, you work hard here, and you contribute a lot. The production numbers in your department are pretty good. Having been a leader for some time, however, I know that these numbers will continue only if people are motivated in the right ways. They’ll respond to almost anything for a short time, but their cooperation will continue only if we are good leaders.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Forgive me for taking the slow route on this. Even though I know that your desires are good, I see a snag developing in your growth as a leader. Right now it’s not causing you a great deal of trouble—which is one reason you’re not seeing it—but over time it will become a real problem. It could even ruin you as a leader. Because I know you want to be a good leader and to do what will help the company, I know you’ll want to hear what I’m saying here. As I describe this, remember that I’m interested only in helping you do your job better. Period.”
Kevin then described the leadership qualities Seth had often demonstrated over the past year: bullying, browbeating, anger, a selfish failure to share credit for successes with others, and so on.
Seth was not happy to hear all this, and for several minutes he responded by denying it, acting hurt, and finally becoming angry at Kevin.
Kevin did not respond to Seth’s anger with anger of his own, nor did he argue with Seth’s defensive responses point by point. Instead, he said, “Seth, what I’m telling you is for your benefit. You have an opportunity here to go one of two ways. First, you could deny what I’ve said, argue about it, feel hurt, or be angry—or all of these responses. But I can tell you from considerable experience and from talking to the people who work with you that what I’m telling you is true, and if you deny what I’m saying, you’ll stay the same, and these problems will get worse. The many ways your direct reports are resisting you now will multiply, and eventually they’ll become insurmountable. Or, second, you could really listen to what I’m saying. You have nothing to lose here. I’m not criticizing you. You play golf, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Seth was a little disoriented, because the question seemed disconnected from the conversation.
“Ever take lessons from a professional?”
“He found something in my swing that needed to be changed.”
“Did you hate him for it?”
“He was helping me.”
“So you found him valuable even though he was pointing out something you were doing wrong?”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing here. I’m seeing something in your ‘leadership swing’ that will eventually cripple your game—even though you’re kind of getting away with it for the moment—and I’d like to help.”
Seth made a fateful decision here, that he would listen to Kevin. They met on a regular basis after that, to discuss what Seth was learning, and gradually Seth became a much better leader. This would not have been possible if Kevin had not been willing to persist in telling Seth the truth about himself, even when he met considerable resistance. Such is the responsibility of an effective leader.
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