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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Who I Am, and How to Manage Me

September arrived as if shot out of a cannon. The kids returned to school, and, at least it seems, everyone got back to work and dug in deep. I myself didn't have much of a slowdown this summer, but last week's activities at work took on a new, feverish pace. I was so busy that I hadn't even eaten lunch one day, which is highly unusual for me.

I generally don't mind being busy, but there are still only so many hours in the day. A project came up that required extensive revisions on a very tight deadline, and I was already scheduled to be out of the office attending other meetings. Despite bringing it home to review during the evening, there was more work to be done than hours I had, and so it had to go undone.

Now here's what you need to know about me: I work really, really hard. If I'm not doing something that I'm supposed to do, that is a personal failing for me. I budget my time carefully, make every effort to be proactive, and put 100% of my effort into everything I do. Even outside of work, that often means I don't do the things I love, like writing blog posts, until practically everything else in my life is already complete. I don't take any of my responsibilities lightly. And if you accuse me of shirking one of those responsibilities? Well, I take it personally.

So when that happened last week, I was hurt. I felt my professional integrity was being undermined, and that I was being misrepresented. I made my case to my bosses, who I've known for nearly nine years now, but I knew I was already preaching to the choir. I knew I had their support. But I still felt awful.

We only had a few minutes to talk before another three hour block of meetings, but one of my bosses pulled me aside and made sure we took the time to address my feelings before those meetings began. In just a few minutes, he managed to completely transform my attitude with only a few key phrases.
  • I am a valuable asset. My bosses need me to be focused on the task at hand, and not whatever else might be a distraction. And I should remember that this situation merely was that: a distraction. Not worth all of the effort and thought that I was putting into it.
  • He, along with only a couple others, determines my career path within the firm, and they all had my back. They knew what I was doing and supported it. They knew I'd prioritized things the right way. They knew the quality of my work, as well as my work ethic, and didn't doubt me now.
  • My feelings were valid. If he had been in my shoes, he would have felt the same way. But, he encouraged me to not repeat his mistakes by dwelling and fixating on it. He told me to move on, because if I was distracted, I couldn't be that valuable asset he needed. I was told to brush it off, but not because the way I felt was silly or stupid. I could brush it off because it honestly didn't matter.
And the three hours of meetings that followed? They went really, really well. We worked seamlessly as the team that nine years of building rapport and trust has created. All because he took a few minutes to diffuse what had become a tense and upsetting situation for me.

It doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes, that same boss is the one creating the difficult situation. But he's generally a reasonable guy, and willing to hear me out in those moments too. It felt really good to be both heard and understood this time around, and the validation he provided helped me get through the day. Hopefully, the next time something like this happens, and I have no doubt that it will, I'll remember how this time felt, and take the same approach.

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