By Daniel Robin
"There comes a time ... when we
must grab the bull by the tail and face the situation." - W.C. Fields
You walk into a meeting with your agenda
brandished on your frontal lobes, ready to get the team's unwavering commitment and blast
into action. The last time you had an assignment with this group, some joker disagreed, it
threw you off, and it took forever to get it done. This time you don't have the luxury of
such fooling around.
Hey, lighten up! When stakes are high, and
with increasing pressure and chaos all around us, it's vital to strike a balance between focus
on the goal and flexibility in how you'll get there.
A recent study showed that more than 50% of
the companies surveyed are undergoing major changes most of the time, and two out of three
people feel constant uncertainty and ambiguity in the workplace.
I'm not so sure ... but then again, who knows?!
Why We Aren't Dead Yet
Luckily, the human organism is equipped
with stress-release valves, which is why many of us trudge admirably through life
despite the odds. Sometimes the valves can get stuck. Exercise, meditation, or PMA (that's
positive mental attitude) can help; however, there are interpersonal tools we
humans need to avert exhaustion or death or accumulated blahs from workplace pressure.
Five Telltale Signs
These five indicators tell you if you're
balancing focus and flexibility, force and frivolity, seriousness with silliness.
1. When the Going Gets Tough ... the Tough Use
John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, was
asked if he thought there were times when humor might not help. He replied,
"Yes, if you're attacking a machine gun emplacement, it's no time for jokes, pies in
the face, or dropping your trousers to amuse the enemy ... but when the job is done, you
had better find something to laugh about, or spend some time relaxing and having
Fortunately, most of us are not engaged in
physical battle, so instead of tightening up and slamming through throwing more time, money,
muscle, energy ... at the problem how about lightening up and asking the team to look for an
easier way? Who said it has to be hard?
2. Are You Noticing Other People?
Pressure causes most of us to dig in,
focus, pull up the escape hatch, and close the stress-release valve. "Don't tell me
to relax, damit ... this tension is the only thing keeping me from falling apart!"
Isolation works for short spurts, until we
get interrupted or we seek answers from other lifeforms.
If the situation at hand seems like a joke,
perhaps you're half way there. To prevent "hardening of the attitudes," notice
the absurdity in it, then notice how other people can play a role in attacking the problem
(rather than attacking each other).
3. Can You Meet Them Where They Are?
When you have a clear objective, and
you know how you'll recognize the results you're after, then you are free to
effectively explore what others think, know, and want, without fear of getting thrown off
track, without "losing it."
By initially meeting the other person where
they are (not where you are, or where you want them to be), you can then
take deliberate steps toward your goal and they'll be more likely to go along.
This up-front investment in first
understanding them, and letting them know you got it, gets you out of isolation, clearing
the runway for faster results. It's what we call "go slow to go fast."
4. Response-able Versus Responsible
Change is inevitable; it is our response
to change that makes or breaks us.
Blaming others when things go wrong gives
us the illusion of control. "I identified the source of the problem and, just as I
thought, they screwed it up!" On the other hand, if we assume too much
personal responsibility, the load gets unbearably heavy.
The best way to manage and lead change, or
when things go wrong, is to identify areas of shared responsibility, and get to an
agreement about consequences we all want to avoid (such as perpetuating past problems) and
what we are going to do about it now. Rehashing the past is pointless and an energy drain.
5. Is Learning Happening?
Effective business relationships are based
on learning (also known as continuous improvement). Do you give and get feedback easily?
Are you generally open, non-defensive, willing to listen, understand and use what you
hear? If someone points out that you (heaven forbid) made a "mistake," can you
see your customers, coworkers, the boss ... as a learning resource?
There are two ways to learn anything: the
easy way, and the hard way. As Calvin once proclaimed to Hobbes, "Ignorance is
bliss ..." and as they flew over a cliff and landed on their heads, Hobbes said,
"I'm not sure I can stand so much bliss." Calvin cautioned, "Careful! We
don't want to learn anything from this."
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