Sometimes we have to make bad decisions. Ones that leave a bitter taste in our mouth. For all the freedom we have, there are those situations where we get caught between a rock and a hard place. Though we may not feel that we have a choice in a decision we need to make, we always have a choice in how we see it through.
Recently I was in such a position, where I had to make a tough call as to whether to continue with a project or not. Throughout the course of this project, it became apparent that my collaborator and I had very different ideas about things.
Following, lets call it a difference of opinion, I wanted to walk away, to spit my dummy and declare, in a cloud of self-righteousness, I will not work for free, I will not be taken advantage of.
But I didn’t, because I also wanted to see the project through.
I took the decision to suck it up.
I knew it was a short term situation and once the project was done it would not be something I would return to and in the meantime there was an opportunity to learn.
I’m writing the first part of this post at the time that this is happening but will not publish till some point in the distant future when everything has settled. The purpose of the post is to demonstrate learning, not to name and shame!
I will be interested to see how it all turned out…
Well I’m back… several months later…
I don’t regret my decision to stick it out. I may have lost out financially, but I I am happy I saw through my commitment and learned some important lessons in the process.
If you don’t get on with someone you’re working with, whether you’re contracted or employed, you still have a choice in how you handle yourself – whether you change your situation or change your attitude to it. You an suck it up; accept that it is what it is and decide to just get on with your job, or you can spit it out; take action to alter the situation or remove yourself from it.
The third option is to dislike the source of conflict, complain about them, bitch and moan to everyone who will listen, feel outraged at their unacceptable behaviour etc. etc. But if you choose this, know that you are the only one who will suffer and harbour feelings of helplessness. Doing nothing and hoping the situation will change is a fools errand. In the past it’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson.
I’m pretty sure we’ve all done this. Whether it’s a boss or a personal relationship , you can’t expect someone else to change their behaviour without changing your own. I mean everyone likes a good rant now and again, and that’s okay, but complaining about the same situation over and over again without action is utterly defeatist. Sometimes this can be a fine line.
If you tolerate someone behaving in a way you don’t like and you don’t tell them you don’t like it, why would they ever change it? Maybe they are taking the piss, but maybe they genuinely don’t know the impact they are having on you, and a short, honest conversation could resolve things. It’s worth considering.
If you can’t change the situation then it is up to you to choose your attitude. Make the decision to give zero shits and not let the situation impact your mental wellbeing. Ironically I learned this from a particularly challenging boss I once had. Once I stopped seeking approval from her (which I knew I would never get), I was able to let go of my resentment. Sometimes it’s important to toughen up and see a work commitment as just that – it’s business, it’s not personal, it’s probably not life and death!
Ultimately the way you decide to respond is down to you. How much are you willing to tolerate? How much does it bother you? What do you thing the chances are of successfully changing things? (It’s almost always worth trying!). It’s not always an easy decision but the act of making a decision is in itself liberating.
In my more recent situation, acceptance was the route I took. It had become clear quite quickly that the other party was not really interested in building good will, that they were focused solely on their own agenda, which is actually fine. I simply chose to ignore what I saw to be inappropriate, short-termist behaviour (sometimes you have to treat adults like toddlers and leave them to scream and thrash about in the supermarket aisle until they’ve blown out their own tantrum!) I just got on with making my contribution the best it could be, knowing the situation was temporary.
Historically I was always a people pleaser and, though that trait remains, I am less bothered these days about making people like me (and less sensitive about it if they don’t!) and more bothered about liking myself! So I chose to take nothing personally and to bear no malice. The other party simply had an approach and style which was miss-matched to my own.
As I see it, there is a spectrum professional relationships, and to some extent I think it applies to personal ones too (I know I’ve had parallel issues with friends). At one end, there are those which are purely transactional and at the other, the truly collaborative partnerships based on mutual respect and support. They both have value in their own ways, though I believe that people underestimate the value of future good will and that there is always time to make it (manners cost nothing for a start!).
Sometimes the relationships you think are going to be on one end, turn out to move towards the other. Our initial expectations are rarely entirely accurate and we may be disappointed or pleasantly surprised!
I’ll leave you with two things this episode has taught me about professional working relationships;
Firstly. Care less about those transactional relationships. Not in a ‘fuck you’ way. Just see and accept them for what they are instead of getting emotionally invested. It’s not personal, it’s a simple equation where both parties benefit and off you go on your merry way, thank you very much, see you next time (or not).
Secondly. Search for, and work at those relationships where there is potential for that productive collaboration, where what you achieve together is more than you could ever do on your own. Synergies. That is the sweet spot!
If you’re struggling with a similar situation at work or in your personal life, I hope this has made you realise that you have a choice, even if you think you don’t. Try taking a step back and see if you can reframe it in these terms. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised!