Executive coach Jenny McKay emphasises the importance of data gathering in taking more control in what often seems to be an out-of-control world.
• Does the way you are responding to life work for you?
• Do you know why you are feeling as you do?
• What is the cost if you don’t know?
• Does it matter?
Finding ways to keep yourself aware can be difficult when awareness is not generally on to-do lists. This is so even if you recognise the importance of being tuned in to who you are and what is happening for you and understand that who you are can help you know what will work for you and what won’t.
Take many a work situation where you find yourself responding to the demands of your clients, teams, leaders, or your organization. Appreciating who you are and what is important to you enables you to makes sense of your responses to these everyday demands.
Data gathering leads to better control
For example, you might react to a short, sharp request from your much esteemed leader with equanimity and calm, proactively moving forward with her request gladly and willingly. But then you are put out and resentful when your boss’s boss ever so politely asks if you could find time for his current tender. It seems both obvious and innocuous that responses will be different and seemingly unpredictable from time to time. However, failing to make sense of such differences, puts you at risk of allowing your responses – particularly your less positive ones - to adversely affect your relationships with others. This is potentially career limiting.
Return to the short, sharp leader and a positive response to her request. Tuning in to the fact that you are comfortable with her and your disinclination to take her manner personally, helps you become aware that this is because she is always brisk, never unfair, always tuned in to what is viable for the team to achieve and always forgiving. You identify your own comfort with working alongside people who are consistent, professional, respectful and reasonable.
Consider this alongside your prickly response to her boss. In your experience, he only makes contact when he needs something, never considers whether you have capacity or not, changes his manner with you depending on what he wants from you, and is unforgiving whenever people don’t bend to his needs. And he never recognises your input if an outcome is good, but he sure as hell points the finger when it’s not. Reflecting on this data alerts you to your underlying distrust of this person. So gathering this data and reflecting on it can pay handsome dividends.
These may be simplified and stereotypic examples of behaviour in the workplace. Nevertheless they demonstrate that appreciating the difference in impact of behaviour on you and the reasons behind it is important. You can tune into yourself and be more forgiving at the end of the day when you find yourself terse, brittle, and feeling undervalued and vulnerable. You can make sense of this.
Sense making leads to control
Sense making has been a predominant support in quelling fears, dealing with stress, continuing to move forward, and many other scenarios. Dan Siegel writes of the importance of, and the support that comes from, “Naming it to tame it”, but particularly when “it” is an emotion or a pervasive mood. By standing back from your experience, you can support yourself with “Of course. That is why”.
Sharing your responses with your nearest and dearest is how you often make sense of your experiences. When thoughts just float around in your head and heart, it is very hard to stand back and sort out the reasons for a response.
It’s important to:
• Create a way of taking stock;
• Gain a more objective perspective; and
• Take the opportunity to reflect on the potential ingredients that have served to make you feel either good or bad.
Imagine how much more in control you can feel once you can make sense of your responses and reactions to your day to day challenges. But on those very days when you are left in quite a negative state, you are often far less inclined to stop and ponder, make sense of your moments and connections and make the attempt to understand what exactly happened for you. All the more reason to put in place a supportive space or practice that occurs, regardless of the outcome of the day, so that it is there automatically. Sometimes you might not need much of it at all. But it is there.
A word of warning: when you don’t stop, take stock, recognise and understand the damage you can potentially do to those you love and care for most, particularly if it happens on an on-going basis, you may be doing great harm to your relationships outside the workplace.
Very few people will welcome the thought of finding time for another task they need to attend to – particularly one which seems unproven, non-productive and in the immediate term, not revenue generating. But consider the possibility of the current “spaces” that exist in your day: moments of transit. Do they have to be filled completely with calls, emails and absolute immersion in the state of the traffic? Can the first five or last five minutes serve the purpose of being a download or reflection space? Could you direct the opportunity of walking to your vehicle to this task, regardless of how short or long the walk is? Even boiling a kettle takes time. Could this time be directed, just once a day, to a sense making moment?
This time can be used to ask just three potentially supportive questions of yourself each day, starting with work days:
• What is happening for me right now?
• What might have contributed to this feeling, set of thoughts, or assumption?
• What about that contribution am I sensitized to?
Sticking to three questions means the exercise doesn’t feel burdensome. Of course, on those days when you would prefer to pull your own teeth out before you relive the atrocities of your last 10-12 hours, be forgiving and find a more opportune and robust time.
Your responses to these three questions can lead to an action, a shift, an appreciation or an Aha moment and will certainly grow your self-awareness which in turn will help you take more control.
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