As we begin mid-year reviews and subsequently struggle to remember what it is we actually like about each other and our staff, I’d like to focus a little bit on some of the most common psychological workplace scripts that often result in conflict. Scripts are actions, words, even entire personality traits we may take on at work that don’t necessarily speak to who we truly are, or certainly who we want to be. The best leaders have all navigated these psychological minefields at some point in their career. What sets them apart is that they have actively worked to self-correct, heading off bad behavior before it begins to negatively affect the culture they are working so hard to create.
Anger and Expectations
What makes us angry? Have you ever left a meeting where you mouthed off unintentionally and can’t remember how you got to that point? Have you ever cried at work (a common response to anger) even though you realize your job is not a life or death situation worthy of that level of emotion? Have you ever been annoyed by a coworker just for breathing even though, if you stop to think about it, you would really like them as a person if you met at a bar instead of a cubicle?
What makes us angry at work? It turns out, the source of all anger is expectations. Pressure test the theory in your everyday life.* Angry at your spouse for being late? You expected they would be home for dinner. Angry at your kids for not cleaning their room? You expected they had standards for hygiene. Angry at your friend for not texting you back? You expected you meant more to them than you do…kidding.**
Expectations can be real (re: fair). When your friend said they would meet you at 6:00 pm for dinner, you expected they were using the same time zone you were. Real. Or they can be imagined (re: unfair). For example, mom, when I say I may come home for Christmas, that does not mean I am definitely moving home for two weeks through the New Year. Imagined. Unfortunately, our expectations are not always so obvious and top of mind. So, the next time you feel yourself getting angry at work, stop and ask, what was I expecting? And on the scale of effective communication was that expectation real, expressed, implied, or imagined?
Time and Priorities
It has been said, by people other than me, I promise, that the true definition of wealth is time and space. If we can do anything we want with our time, we are wealthy. Time, however, is a created thing. We make time and it is entirely subjective. You can instantly feel like you have more or less of it just by how anxiously you anticipate what comes next on your calendar. Vacation in two weeks? Ugh, that’s forever! Colonoscopy in two weeks? Too soon! Have you ever driven a long distance to somewhere you really want to go? It takes days to get there, and somehow, hours to get back. If it’s 3:25 and you’re stuck at work it’s only 3 o’clock, but if it’s 3:40 and you’re late, it’s already 4 o’clock. How does that even make sense?
Time, and our self-proclaimed lack of it, has become a badge of honor. We live in an age of dual income households, work-from-home policies, cell phone cultures, multiple messaging apps, out-of-office vacation responses that specify whether we still have access to our email. In a “time-starved” American workforce, time is our most precious commodity, but is it real and can we instantly make more of it by prioritizing?
When a coworker asks you to take on more work and you say, “I don’t have time”, is that true? If, five minutes after that, your manager asks you to take on more work, do you still say, “I don’t have time”? Or does the answer change? Because presumably, if the amount of time we have is not subjective, the answer would have to be the same. But it’s not, is it? Try replacing “I don’t have time” with “It’s not a priority” and see how that feels. Telling your coworker, “It’s not a priority” feels like we are good at managing our workload. If your child is asking you to watch a movie with them, or your friend is asking you out for coffee or a long dinner, or your parents ask you to visit, replacing “I don’t have time” with “It’s not a priority” may not feel as good. This simple shift in communication style will quickly uncover what your priorities truly are, allowing you to make more time, and spend it in the best way possible.
*It’s not a theory, it’s true.
**But, really, I see that you read it!
Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising Management from FIT and studied branding abroad at the University of Westminster. Her most recent positions include Merchandise Manager for Cohen’s Fashion Optical and Northeast Regional Trainer for Solstice Sunglasses. Susan started her own business in 2009 and sold it in 2016 to return to Connecticut and begin working for IDOC, helping other small business owners find success on their own terms. For questions or comments about this article, please firstname.lastname@example.org.