Struggling with the way things are? Time to notice what is

I’m feeling angry.

Sometimes, life brings us the very lessons we most want to teach others …again and again and again.  It’s the Ground Hog day of the teacher’s own learning.  We get to take the learning with humility or we get to pretend.

Our students always find us out.

So, with timely synchronicity, this week I received the response to an appeal I put forward a few weeks ago as a reminder of just how hard it can be to notice how things are, accept them, and move on from there.  There was nothing in the response to my appeal that gave me any comfort that justice (natural or otherwise) has been done.

The challenge of accepting what is

Maybe you’re familiar with the challenge of accepting what is.

You know your boss has had all sorts of training that suggests that seeing the best in people or working collaboratively (or… or… or…) is more likely to get good results and still, your boss is managing you in ways which leave you feeling your work isn’t appreciated, that you’re liable to be punished for breaching rules you didn’t know existed (or, worse still, for breaching rules that you know don’t exist), that the give is all coming from you and the take is all coming from your boss.  Every time you think about your boss you chafe against an approach which ought to be different.

You think the way your (insert brother, sister, spouse, mother, father, friend, colleague, other) is behaving right now is outrageous.  You can dress up the language (‘ineffective’, ‘unhelpful’, ‘inappropriate’ or whatever) but, fundamentally, you’re finding it heard to accept somebody else’s choices and you think they should be choosing something different.  You feel angry, upset, disappointed, frustrated…

You’re managing a member of staff who, by now, should have mastered a certain skill or who lacks motivation.  Hey!  Worse still, maybe you’re managing a whole team of people who lack the motivation or the polish or the commitment you expect to see in your team.  You can’t believe your team member(s) could be so unprofessional.  Maybe, even, you can’t believe your predecessor in the job could have let things go on so long the way they are.

At home, you’ve asked your son – repeatedly – to tidy up his room and he keeps on saying yes… and doing no.  You can’t believe he’s being so uncooperative and still expecting you to (insert cook meals, pay for his violin classes, drive him from A to B, give out copious amounts of hugs and emotional support, other) as if everything’s working perfectly.

Whatever the reason, you’re struggling to accept something that isn’t the way you’d like it to be – often, with good reason.

Living with Radio 4

Now, I want to take a moment to talk about my life long relationship with BBC Radio Four.

Growing up, the radio was always on in the kitchen at Malt House Farm.  At least, at some stage the “wireless” was always on until it became a radio.  And it was always tuned to BBC Radio Four.  Woman’s Hour, Alistair Cooke’s Letter From America… The Archers was on at 7pm in the evening, again at 2pm the next day and again on Sunday mornings.  I marvel now at how I was able to do my homework to the background noise of BBC Radio Four.

More recently, though, I have had periods of abstinence.  In particular, I have chosen not to wake up to the theme of “who’s to blame?” which seems to prevail on the Today programme.  Does there always need to be someone to blame?

I mention this because it seems to me that the idea that something or someone should be different is culturally sanctioned in my own corner of the world.  So if, like me, you’re chafing right now at something or someone that really isn’t working for you, you’re only doing something that is widely accepted as an okay way to go about your life.

How though, might this play out over time?

In the land of “things ought to be different”

I remember hearing of one company director who was fundamentally opposed to the strategic direction his company was taking and campaigned vociferously to reverse a decision to go in a particular direction.  When his arguments fell on deaf ears, he shouted a little louder and a little louder, without ever stopping to take stock.  You only had to look at the composition of the board to realise that the decision was not going to change.  Meantime, he gained a reputation for being difficult to work with and lost the good will of his peers.

And what about the leader who pursued her childhood dream and achieved it, striving to prove her parents wrong (“Is that really you, dear?”) by working towards and gaining a senior leadership role.  On a leadership course, feedback from her staff suggested that she had a very limited range of leadership styles and that levels of satisfaction amongst her team members were low.  She felt angry and resentful – after all that she’d done for them!  Still, twenty years into her career, she was still trying to prove her parents wrong.

Recently a friend of mine who is a senior employment lawyer pointed to some of the injustices that staff face in the hands of their employers.  The trouble is, she said, even when companies are clearly in breach of the law, it’s hard to bring a case and expect to continue to work in the organisation that has got it wrong.  And there are other costs, too… the emotional toll, the time, the money, the risk to your relationships with loved ones as they worry about you at first and then get irritated with you for what you’ve put them through over time.

Noticing what is

Some of the most effective leaders have an ability to notice what is.

The company director who can survey the board and and get under the rhetoric of his or her colleagues to notice what the Finance Director gets most excited about or to identify the tiny incongruities between what the CEO says and what he or she does in practice, has information that can inform decisions and lead to a more effective approach.  Can’t get the FD on board?  Let me tell him about the impact this will have on profit margins and how… since this is clearly what is most important to him.  Sometimes, too, noticing that you have some fundamental differences with your colleagues is an invitation to notice what’s most important to you and to consider what changes you can make that will lead you towards a life that is aligned to your values.

If you’re unhappy in your job, noticing that you have achieved your childhood dream but that this has not given you the joy and satisfaction you thought it would, or rid you of your concern that your parents might not think well of you, or even given you staff who are happy and fulfilled in their work or performing well… this, too, opens up the opportunity to notice the yearnings of your heart.  What is it you really want?  Your parents’ approval?  And what does that tell you about what, with or without any particular response from your parents, you really want?  Acceptance… understanding… love…?

The person who is considering taking his or her employing organisation to court may indeed have been  wronged by his or her manager, company or organisation.  The law may have been broken.  His or her manager may indeed have broken company rules.  Natural justice may not have been served.  These are, though, things that have happened and cannot be changed.  For this person, too, there some fundamental needs have not been met… for understanding, consideration, respect…  to recognise these needs is, in itself, to honour them.  More than this, taking time to notice these needs and all the emotion that comes with a situation in which they have not been met or have even been violated, can guide an employee in what to look for when making requests of a current manager or seeking to work with a new employer.

Noticing what is is about being curious about other people – how does he tick?  What are her chief concerns?  It’s about noticing the politics of an organisation.  What are the official rules?  The culture?  What happens in practice?  Noticing what is is also about being curious about ourselves.  What thoughts are we having?  What emotions?  What is happening in our body?  Noticing, too, is about being curious about the information that we don’t yet have.  What understanding do team members have of the job they are expected to do?  Do they have clear job descriptions?  When were they last updated?  What about their performance reviews – what did their line manager say?  Each question opens up new avenues of enquiry and takes us from the world of assumption.  We may not like the information that emerges and still, we are more informed.

Sometimes, it starts with the emotion

I wonder if there’s any area in which you find yourself thinking that things ought to be different.  If there is, I invite you to notice…

…What is it that you feel so strongly about?  What do you feel?

…What thoughts are you having about the person or situation you’re struggling with?

…What do you know?  What do you not yet know?

…What can you do?  What is beyond your control or influence?

Yesterday, I tried hard to move quickly beyond the anger I feel about my own experiences in current months… and I did feel angry and upset.

It seemed important to notice what I know and what I don’t know… to find out who chaired the appeal, for example, who was at the meeting… and whether or not due process has been followed.  In the words of one friend –  “Aren’t appeals panels supposed to have discrete (i.e. no overlapping) membership with the original panel?”

Today I am just noticing my response to each new piece of information that comes my way.

I know I don’t want to feel angry for ever and still…

For now, that is how I feel.

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