Do you see your colleagues more as people or do you work and relate with them more based on their place on the organization chart?
Over and over clients come to me with similar perspectives and challenges. Often they see their managers as people to please, whom they want to learn about but never do because they don’t feel it their place to get to know him or her… as people they have to earn their place to work with. They see people who report to them as having to perform for them or to earn their places with them.
If they want to do something at work outside of what they’ve been told — that is, to take initiative, to act entrepreneurially, or to lead — they try to figure out how to motivate the roles of the people to follow them and not the people themselves. Do you see how ineffective and even counterproductive that strategy can be? People respond to personal incentives and motivations, but treating them like roles depersonalizes them. They feel less connected, less understood, and therefore less motivated. Instead of feeling involved with a project for who they are, they’ll feel more like you want to use them for your goals. Naturally they’ll feel motivated to resist, even if you have a great plan.
More than that, if you see people as positions on charts first, you’ve made your work a less human place. You’ll see your workplace as filled less with genuine human beings and more like pod people. For example, everyone I know in finance works long hours and has a few deep passions or hobbies they wish they had more time for and consider more important or derive more emotional reward from working on than their job. They want to start a new company, play an instrument, create and show photography, travel, and things like that. Here’s where this pattern hurts them. Each of them that I asked, and I’ve asked many, thinks they are one of the few or even only person they know with this outside-of-work passion. They think everyone else works there for the money more than they do, while they uniquely have this higher purpose. Since they don’t question this belief, they consider themselves better than their peers, whom they consider almost less-than-human drones.
The long hours endemic to finance exacerbate this trend, but don’t make it unique. I see it everywhere. People aren’t drones. They don’t work because their lives are otherwise empty. They are as interesting as you. If you think otherwise, you make yourself as dull to them (and eventually to yourself) as you imagine them.
The antidote has to come from yourself because nobody else will take responsibility for improving your life and knows your interests like you. Simply having drinks with someone after work may not suffice. Most people have public faces they show. Even if they talk about important things they care about deeply, they protect their deep feelings from public view from being hurt before. Not that you have to get deep with everyone, but that’s the direction you go in to learn about people besides their corporate role and you’ll face that resistance. Also, a lot of people don’t like their work, so the first opening up you’ll get is their complaining about work. You have to take responsibility to listen and understand but move past that subject. You’ll also hear a bunch of public topics they’ve learned to share but don’t reveal much about them — their favorite movies, books, or vacations; how much they love their kids or cats; and things like that. Seemingly personal topics, but threadbare from overuse.
You’ll get four great benefits if you do, which I predict you’ll find more than worth the effort.
First, your workplace will become more human. You’ll take more interest in people the more facets and dimension you see in them. They’ll understand you more as you inevitably open up more to them. You’ll understand why people act as they do, leading to less frustration, impatience, anxiety, and related emotions coming from internal conflict between your expectations and their behavior — that is, less “Why does he do that!?!?”
Second, your ability to influence will skyrocket. Access to people’s emotions and what they care about allows you to motivate them as opposed to manipulating them, which happens more when you only have access to external incentives relevant to their roles. You can act more entrepreneurially by working with people distant from you on the organization chart, whom you’ll no longer feel you need justification to talk to. You’ll feel you can do things because you want to, not because you have to, so you can take initiative.
Third, by blaming others less for your problems and taking responsibility for your relationships, you’ll take more responsibility for your work and likely find yourself getting more responsibility, challenges, and opportunities at work. Blaming others for your problems makes you feel better by removing blame from yourself, but it focuses on the past, which you can’t change, and takes away power from you.
Fourth, all your relationships will improve, including with your family and friends. This happens because the business skills you develop are also social skills that apply in all relationships.
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