One question that I often ask my clients is, “How have you contributed to your work problems?” It’s not a safe question. It’s not a question that will often get you clients or make friends, but it is a powerful question. Powerful questions cause people to reflect and make them uncomfortable, and then hopefully help them formulate and enact solutions.
It’s difficult to solve a problem if we don’t understand how we may have created the problem or how we’re contributing to it. Like most people, I often don’t first see how I’ve created a problem before I start complaining about it. But once I understand my role in its creation, it’s much easer to see potential solutions. Our problems with our own work and with the work of others need to be approached in the same way.
we are responsible for other people’s reactions
Before I talk about how to take responsibility for problems, I want to define responsibility and what happens if we don’t take it. Ron Short, in his book Learning in Relationship: Foundation for Personal and Professional Success, discusses how we are responsible for other people’s reactions to us. When I first read this, I didn’t really understand what he was saying. Why? Because we all know someone who reacts inappropriately to the things we say or do. They do the same thing to others; and others agree with us that so-and-so often has the wrong reaction. So, if they are like that, then how can we be responsible for them?
It’s not that we are responsible for them, it’s that we choose to be in a relationship with them, whether as a coworker, friend or something else. And when we choose to be in that relationship, we choose all that happens in that relationship. Adults are free to choose their relationships, but with that freedom to choose comes responsibility. If I have a problem with a choice I’ve made, I am the creator of that problem. I am responsible. I create my problems through my choices. This is what Irvin Yalom, the noted psychotherapist and author, meant when he said that, “the individual is entirely responsible for—that is, is the author of—his or her own world, life design, choices and actions.”
responsibility is the antidote to resentment
If we don’t take responsibility, we will disproportionally blame others and begin to resent them. Responsibility is the antidote to resentment because it gives us the power to make our lives better. Being able to make our own lives better, means being able to overcome the constraints imposed on us by others. Just like we can take responsibility for our relationships, we can take responsibility for the dysfunction, stress, and dissatisfaction in our working lives. Taking responsibility is the first step toward creating an authentic, sustainable and joyful relationship with the world of work.
If you wish you were doing a different job or working somewhere else, then ask yourself these questions:
» What causes me to choose to stay in my current job/company?
» How might it be possible that I, not the job/company, am the source of my dissatisfaction?
» What do I need to change about myself before I change my job/company?
If you are dissatisfied with the performance of others, then ask yourself these questions:
» What did I avoid doing in the past that would have improved their performance today?
» How am I a barrier to the performance of others?
» What three things can I change about myself that will improve the performance of others?
a joyful working life that is right for me
Once we’ve answered these tough questions, we can begin thinking about answer to this big question: What do I need to do to create an authentic, sustainable and joyful working life that is right for me?
Research shows that satisfaction with work is one of the biggest contributors to personal happiness. We will spend our healthiest years in the world of work. Own it. Take responsibility for it. Make it yours. Make it wonderful.