I overheard a conversation at a cafe. One man was complaining to another how a dating relationship had fallen apart.
He said, “I was trying to be mature about it but then she said ____, and I told her off. I mean, what did she expect?”
It sounded as if he thought her reaction gave him permission to go off. My question is, “What do you expect of yourself?”
What Do You Expect?
We can be so tempted to be drawn into the drama. Have you ever heard yourself excuse your actions with:
- What else could I do?
- How was I supposed to react?
- What choice did he/she leave me?
You might feel as if you are painted in a corner. You were given no choice but to defend yourself. You needed to lay some truth on them. They need to understand how they were out of line. I get it. I’ve been there.
Is It About Them Or You?
I remember a lengthy talk, long ago with a manager about his habit of verbally abusing his co-workers or subordinates for making mistakes. He would humiliate them to the point of saying things like, “I can’t believe you are that stupid.”
We talked about the purpose that served. Were they hearing him? Was it having the desired effect?
He kept bringing the conversation back to how important it was that they know they made the mistake. He literally thought he had no choice but to point it out to them, in his way. The more “stupid” the mistake or oversight, the more he thought he was entitled to ramp up the humiliation.
He knew it was not in his best interest from a career standpoint. He still felt very righteous in his choice of response. I think we get in a rut sometimes.
Ask Another Question
I distinctly remember the moment I asked him these questions. What do you want to think of yourself in this situation? Who do you want to be?
He was silent for a good 30 seconds. He said he had never thought of that before. This doesn’t happen very often, but I saw a light bulb go off over his head.
I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing this manager. I do want to be clear how easy this question is to overlook, particularly when we are pumped up.
He and I discussed at length what the answer to this question could mean for him. We talked about dignity, respect and integrity. He did not connect his purported values to these types of situations. After all, what choice did these people leave him?
What he came to was realizing there were choices that were his to make. We went so far as for him to visualize looking in a mirror and asking, “Who do I want to be in this situation? What do I want to think of myself?”
We talked through how his values applied in these recurring situations. We had to talk it through because this was so new to him. He was not in the habit of looking for his choice points in these situations.
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”~ Albert Einstein
It Takes Practice
He needed to practice making conscious decisions in these situations. I’d love to report that his career life was rosy from that point on. I know he continued to struggle for the few months we continued to talk.
What I also know is that continuing to ask the question, “Who do I want to be?” serves all of us who aspire to be character-based leaders.