My officemate has a habit of speaking too loudly on the phone. I’ve asked her politely to stop, but it keeps on happening. I like this person but I can’t hear myself think sometimes.
I witness others ignoring a company policy with only occasional, half-hearted enforcement from management… it drives me crazy.
A respected colleague shows up at meetings ten minutes late, each time with a ready excuse and apology.
Now is when the temptation to behave poorly can suck us in. We want to whine, beg, ridicule, embarrass, nag, scheme, control, punish, manipulate, scold, threaten, coerce, bribe and gossip. We’ve resorted to these methods in the past… because they work. Unfortunately they also damage relationships.
Let’s Get Past It and Build Some Trust
We want a quick and painless way of changing another person’s behavior. While no one should accept unacceptable conduct, with most of these annoying situations the first thing is to calm our thinking and emotions. Breathe. Count to 10. Take a walk.
Next, determine whether we have any power over the situation. For example, if I’m the manager of the person who shows up late for meetings, I can (and should) have a private coaching and accountability discussion with them, tying their punctuality to job performance. In peer-to-peer situations, I may influence them by asking politely… but power? Not so much.
What if they never change? Then what? Are we willing to remain miserable? As we acknowledge that we are powerless over the other person’s behavior we must decide whether to simply accept things as they are or to actively detach from the situation – and these are not the same thing! (An earlier blog post goes into more detail…)
Acceptance is seeing the value in the other person while intentionally overlooking their annoying behavior. That’s it. Choose to live with it and let it go. This can be difficult but it’s often a valid choice. Detachment, on the other hand, involves getting our own needs met without depending on the other person to change, or in other words seeking our own contentment regardless of what the other person does (or does not do).
Detaching In Action
Let’s examine the above examples more squarely.
My officemate speaks too loudly on the phone; their problem is the excess noise, whereas my problem is I can’t concentrate. Detachment requires me to find better ways to focus whether they ever talk more quietly or not. Here are a few suggestions:
- Get earplugs or noise-canceling headphones (like for airplanes).
- Adjust my furniture or cubicle walls.
- Use a white noise machine (or smartphone app) to dampen the sound.
- Lead by example: keep my own noise level down (mute my email ‘ding’).
And so on. We’ve detached from their behavior and are now taking care of ourselves in a way that keeps the relationship solid.
Note: Don’t practice detachment without having a polite conversation first, otherwise we’re likely to come off as passive aggressive.
In the second case above, their problem is that the company policy doesn’t seem important. My problem is that I believe policies should either be enforced or eliminated, since otherwise managers look weak.
To detach, I must let go of others’ decisions and find something constructive that I can do to ease this pressure. It’s probably best if I first accept that employees see things very differently and that I am powerless to change their mind(s). This gives me the freedom to find ways to actively detach, such as:
- Ask my supervisor if I can safely ignore the policy, too.
- Ask my supervisor to set a unified accountability standard.
- Let “fairness” go and simply choose to follow the policy, regardless.
- Volunteer to be on the next policy committee.
You get the idea. Detachment is a great way to recover our own serenity and build relationships – at work and at home – whether the other person ever agrees with us or not.
Oh… and that guy who always shows up late? I’ll leave you with that bit of homework.
Image Source: The Nest