The most valuable tool to deal with tough situations and emotions in your workplace

Posted by scooletz on May 25, 2020 · 6 mins read

This post describes an approach for dealing with tough situations and emotions in your workplace. I proved itself many times. Sometimes it didn’t, but I can easily attribute it to falling into it just sucks mode and not applying because of XYZ (place excuses here). Its strength was recently observed by me in action so I want to share it with you to provide some food for thought.

The fallacy of the eternal agreement

I’m not sure if this can be attributed to age, lack of management skills, a character or a personality or something else, but there’s this fallacy of thinking that in a company everything will be all right at some point of time. That there will be no disagreements, no arguments, that there will be eternal sunshine and rainbows. I can easily recall the time, when I was thinking this way. Nowadays, I think that having some friction is actually needed, otherwise the passive (potentially: passive aggressive) is winning and you simply don’t move forward both personally and professionally. At the same time, this does not meant that one needs to argue all the time. Still, asking yourself, when was the last time that I witnessed a meaningful disagreement, is a good test for checking how passive or stale the situation is. I’m intentionally writing situation, making it less personal, to show that it’s about the whole, not you or me.

The fallacy of ItJustSucks

Have you ever heard or said

It just sucks.

or maybe

It just doesn’t work.

without giving much background behind it? I think it’s the root cause of falling into staleness. Providing no information, ensures that it cannot be verified (reality check) and addressed. Even with the most overwhelming state, sharing more, being more descriptive will help the other side to act accordingly.

Be More specific

The first point then, would be to be more specific. The best way to do it that I found and observed is to write your thoughts down. I highly encourage using a list. To make it more concrete, let’s assume a scenario when an engineer responsible for a SaaS based product wants to address their tough situation. You can easily imagine going from

It sucks.

to

  1. I’m so tired because the speed of development.
  2. I’m making a lot of silly mistakes because of the pressure of development.
  3. Not to mention that we made this decision abou t releasing it in September and the graphics are not done yet.

It’s still not the best what we can do, but it’s definitely much better as it provides a receiver of this message with so much more context.

Separate facts from implications

Let’s try to divide and address them one by one by splitting facts that can be checked against reality from implications based on facts.

The fact that I can find above is that I’m tired. Making mistakes is an effect of being tired. I admit that personally, I quite often fall into this fallacy of piling implications on top of a fact.

There’s the immeasurable pressure of development, but this can be related to the decision about making it in September. What about the decision itself?

The fallacy of sink costs

The decision about releasing it in September was in the past with some set of data. If you were on Titanic and noticed an iceberg, would you rather state that the decision was made or think about changing the course? The decision can be changed at any time. The back pressure that one can feel is sometimes related to the fallacy of sink costs, where costs that you already paid makes you move into the same direction even if it leads to an abyss. Rethinking decisions with new data is probably the best way to address majority of situations.

Rethink statements again

Let’s go back to our case. Changing the deadline is the easiest way to kill all the birds with one stone. Let’s assume that it’s impossible. Let’s consider alternatives.

If we made ourselves less tired, we wouldn’t be making silly mistakes. This would address the majority of our pain points. What if we try to:

  1. redistribute work
  2. cut some functionality
  3. set a period of time when we change the way we work with graphics and observe more

Some solutions are immediate, but some need tests and time.

Summary

It’s very hard to address a general statement about reality. It’s hard to address a problem as a whole. Being able and willing to split reality and perception into smaller pieces, that can be discussed, analyzed, thought through and addressed point by point is my preferable way to address this kind of tough feelings and situations. It’s not easy and I find myself falling into It sucks many times, but still, it’s the tool that enables to address things bit by bit and to keep moving forward with a stable increase in an overall wellness.


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