Helping thinking + action = better relationships

It is a funny quirk about human nature that we tend to be more aware of other people's problem behaviour than our own. Evolutionists would say that this ability to detect problems in others has helped to ensure our survival.

There are also, of course, those who excel at reflecting on their own behaviour. But taken to the extreme, these people can be very self-critical.

Recently, I heard stories of two people who took very different responses to difficult behaviour they were experiencing from others.

The first was about a male team member who was very dissatisfied with his manager. He blamed his manager for their 'hopeless' management style, poor interpersonal skills, and lack of consistency. He spent time complaining with others who shared his views. He devoted any remaining energy into resisting change or taking time off from work when it 'all got too much'.

Another team member in a different workplace was also dealing with a challenging relationship at work. But this person was relentless in her self-criticism, beating herself up over things she believed she had done wrong, giving herself a hard time over things she wished she had done, or worrying about the future. 

Although blaming self or others is a very human response to stress, these is a very bad use of our energy. Extremes of thinking are usually inaccurate, where we see ourselves as the victim of other people's poor behaviour or as the person solely responsible for the difficulties. Most commonly, the truth is somewhere in between. There are usually things all parties can do to help. But the reality is we can only change the part that is in our control - our own behaviour.

Often the place to start is to find a kinder way to view the situation, if one is there. If you believe you are dealing with someone who is very problematic, perhaps it might be more helpful to see that the person as  simply different and you haven't, as yet, found out how to work in well with them. 

If you believe that you may have contributed to the difficulties in some way, instead of beating yourself up, you may be able to also find a kinder way of seeing the situation - that there are things that you can both do to help. Or that we are all human and none of us do it perfectly 100% of the time. 

Along with more helpful thinking, we also need to take action - whether it be to speak up and let others know what we need, negotiate a way forward, or perhaps to get ourselves into another workplace.

If you have a tendency to self-criticism, like me, you will find that action also helps to interrupt such problem thinking. Sometimes, my wife, Christy, catches me when I am beating myself up mentally over a problem I am experiencing. She reminds me of the need to take action by asking innocently, 'Do you think you have spent enough time thinking about this?' 

When you believe you have made a mistake, you are always better to put your energy less into self-criticism and more into making amends, applying the lessons, or introducing something new to change the usual pattern. 

If you are struggling in coming up with options as to what you can do or think differently, often speaking with a good mentor, who has an unbiased perspective, can help to generate some ideas. 

So, here is a summary of what you can do when next dealing with someone difficult at work:

  1. Reflect on your own behaviour: But here I am encouraging a balance where you are neither seeing your behaviour through rose-coloured glasses or very dark lenses.

  2. Find a way of thinking that is more helpful: Sometimes we are thinking unhelpfully or we are thinking too much. If needed, speak to someone you respect who can give you a more balanced perspective. 

  3. Take action: Yes, there is a time for reflection and thinking of solutions, but there is also a time for action. What are you going to do to interrupt the usual pattern?

Of course, all of us need to be open to reflecting on how our own behaviour may well have contributed to a difficult relationship. 

Although there is no guarantee that change from us will produce change in others, I can certainly guarantee that no change from anyone will get your more of the same.


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