March 18, 2011

awareness of acceptable and unacceptable polarity, for better energy usage

Ok so when is it that I'm going to get off this post trauma trip! Not just yet ...

In my last post, towards the end I talked about how it's important for me to learn to have a bigger buffer between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable so I can make better use of the finite energy I have to go through my day.

I believe I can explain myself better. I'm the type of guy for whom things are good until they are not. It's a very binary way of looking at things. Now, with a new perspective, I don't see that it can work. Ric Kantor, who coaches me on organizational development, uses the term polarity, a perceived either/or which is really two extremes of one spectrum. In other words, between acceptable and unacceptable there are many stages.

Right now my spectrum is:

1. Acceptable -> UnAcceptable

A spectrum that would be better for me to use would go like this:

2. Acceptable ->
        average ->
           can do better ->
              clearly needs improvement -> UnAcceptable

What's the point you say?

Drilling down in Scenario 1, an example of this behavior in real life would be: A manager notices a performance issue with one of his employees which this manager tolerates until things are no longer acceptable. One day, it goes from acceptable to unacceptable over a little thing; the straw that broke the camel's back as they say. The manager then goes on a rant and delivers a tsunami of bottled emotions and half-baked sentences. The employee is stuck piecing the puzzle together and left wondering how that one little thing triggered this huge and unwarranted reaction from his otherwise always nice manager. Bottom line for the employee is it's impossible to meet the expectations of an unpredictable manager. From the manager's angle, it's impossible to be happy about the employee's performance because the manager is bottling things up and never hitting the reset button to give his employee a fair chance to change and improve the problematic behavior.

Looking at Scenario 2, the same manager would meet to discuss the problem with the employee the instant something doesn't go as expected. Since this manager is aware of the various shades of gray in the acceptable/unacceptable polarity, the dialog has more of a chance to be calm and collected. The problem is caught early and feedback is delivered in a non-threatening, constructive manner. Should things improve, both of them win. Should things not improve, since this road has been traveled before, another difficult conversation will be easier to carry. The employee will not be surprised. The manager will be within his comfort zone emotionally speaking. Read are you having great conversations for more on difficult conversations

It's all about making the unacceptable well within one's comfort zone. When things are not going according to plan, emotionally it's ok and one is still in control. The corrective discussion is about listening to why things are not going right and taking actions, as opposed to trying to deliver a message where emotions are just waiting for an opportunity to burst out.   

So in conclusion, getting back to making wise use of energy:  putting a buffer between acceptable and unacceptable and being aware of the polarity helps to make better use of our energy in two ways:
  • The same energy that would go to stressing out about the situation while one waits for something to improve or change that the other party is not aware of, is energy wasted period;
  • The reaction one has when it can no longer be bottled up is very emotional and drains you of a lot more energy to carry on than it would if things were caught earlier in the game. How many times have you felt totally drained after an employee review or a difficult conversation with a close one; those are signs we wait way too long!

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