How can I conquer this adversity at work?

by Sam on September 19, 2010

Difficulty, my brethren, is the nurse of greatness–a harsh nurse, who roughly rocks her foster-children into strength and athletic proportion. ~William Cullen Bryant

One-Minute Answer: Ask this question of William Cullen Bryant and his answer may be to rejoice about your adversity because bearing up under it will build emotional muscles. Not a bad thought.

But you didn’t tune in this week to be told that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger—as true as that is. You’re here for an idea or two for turning around a bad situation on the job. So let’s get to it!

It’s not possible for me to guess the exact work hardships you face. So I’ve done an internal search of my own memory bank for the hurts the managers I’ve coached have experienced. Perhaps you’ll find yours on their list. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, since the first benefit you’ll get may come from knowing you’re far from alone in your pain.

Five-Minute Answer: Here’s a dirty (baker’s) dozen—thirteen misfortunes that might be making you miserable at work. Each of these challenges has to do with relationships—often with the person you report to. A future ASK will cover adversities resulting from actions you took, or failed to take.

  1. Work for a puzzle. I was fired by a new boss of one year who was hard to read, and who failed to issue his “rules of the road”. In like manner you may not be sure of the expectations held of you, despite a clear job description of the scope of your duties. Advice: Present your boss with a list of the top ten priorities you believe he holds for you. Show how you divide your energies across these focus areas. Add how relatively important to the mission you believe each one is. Get feedback.
  2. Micro-managed. Your boss may step in to do what you think is your job or may reverse decisions you thought were left to you. Advice: Ask this question: “What can I do to convince you to trust me in my role?” Prepare for one of two responses. If you hear, “I’ll have more trust when you ______” you just got the gift of feedback. Grow from it! If you hear, “What are you talking about? I trust you,” respond with “I used to think that was the case, but when my staff told me that they were told not to proceed with my ______ plan, I wasn’t so sure anymore.”
  3. Failure to sell my ideas up. Sometimes the most difficult person to sell ideas to is your boss. Advice: Nothing sells better than the credibility established by your track record. Do you always deliver? Do your ideas often make the boss look better? Do your predictions tend to come true and do your estimates mirror final outcomes? Are the benefits you present for your ideas improvements that are near and dear to the boss? Do you anticipate his every question regarding your suggestions?
  4. Performance review-less. Your company may not have a performance management system, or your manager may just ignore the requirement to give you a performance review. Furthermore, your boss may give you little ongoing feedback. Advice: Ask this: “What’s one thing I can do to be more valuable to you?” Or, find a performance review form, complete a self-evaluation with it, and ask your boss to rate your accuracy.
  5. Received a horrible performance review. So many performance review systems focus on numerical scores and as such serve primarily as report cards. Advice: Don’t argue the numbers. Instead, ask your boss for three to five specific behaviors you can begin displaying immediately to turn around her judgment of your work. Don’t leave the meeting without knowing exactly what new, renewed, or extinguished behavior you need to achieve.
  6. Under-appreciated. Your hard work and dedication is rarely recognized. Advice: If the problem is an absence of praise from your boss, there may be little you can do short of giving his contact information to a leadership coach. If the problem for you is wider in the organization, ask your manager to take you to meetings of higher ups where your outstanding (better be!) performance will get noticed.
  7. Clash of values. Your boss asks you to do something that violates your sense of integrity, morals, or fair play. Advice: You have four, not five, choices. One, comply and hopefully realize later that the action is not the violation you feared. Two, go along with it and dislike the person it changed you into. Three, explain why you refuse to do it. Four, quit. A fifth option of going over the boss’s head, is almost never a smart move.
  8. Discriminated against. You believe you’re not getting a fair shake because of age, race, sex, lifestyle, or religion. Advice: Look at your productivity, quality, and teamwork under a microscope with the help of an accountability partner. My experience is that the vast majority of workers who believe they are victims of discrimination are unaccountable under-performers looking for someone else to blame. If you are unfortunate enough to be in the tiny minority that truly suffers from bias, then head straight to your HR office.
  9. Passed over. You were sure the promotion, assignment, or award that just went to a colleague would be yours. Advice: See #1, #5, and #8. Ask the person who made the decision, “What can I show you between now and the next time such an opportunity presents itself to get that opportunity?” Make yourself look good by giving the winner every ounce of your support. That may be hard to do, but it will pay off for you.
  10. Terminated. It hurt deeply when I lost my dream job in 1985, so I feel your pain. Advice: Don’t take the time to grieve or cry in your beer. Get immediate help from an accountability partner—personal or professional—to begin planning for the future. Start with a profile of your strengths, talents, skills, knowledge, needs for development, and emotional intelligence. Combine this with your vision, dreams, ambitions, and preferences. Stir that all up with the knowledge of what it is life that makes you feel most vibrant and alive. Go in the direction this self-assessment sends you to. And once you get some time distance between you and the firing, expect likely to feel as happy about it as I do.
  11. Employee was defiant to me in full view. Tolerate open insubordination and you’ll lose respect from your team. Advice: Say nothing in public so as not to drag yourself down to the level of this rebel. Buy time to calm down by saying, “Let’s discuss this further in ten minutes in my office (or other private place). Run the meeting like this: “Pat, you appear very upset about the issue you raised in the hallway in front of others. You have my word that whenever I get angry with you or any other member of my team, I’ll vent that anger in private. What just happened in the hallway can never—I repeat never—happen again. It is now necessary for you to apologize to the team members who witnessed your outburst. Then I want you back in here to discuss the issue with me in a problem-solving tone.”
  12. Someone took credit for your work. Advice: Calm down and say this to the “thief”: “Chris, I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one of us goes to the boss to clear up the misunderstanding you created about whose idea it was to create a training academy for cashiers. And when you do, I hope you’ll take proper credit for helping me with the PowerPoint slides. And please get back to me today when you’ve done that so I can confirm it with her.”
  13. Uncooperative coworker. No matter what form a lack of teamwork takes, it will drag you and the company down. Advice: Set up an initial meeting with the person over coffee or lunch. Once pleasantries are exchanged, ask this: “One thing I wanted to do today was be sure I know what expectations you have of me as your colleague. I took the liberty of writing down a half dozen of what I thought they were. Can you tell me how they look to you, and if there are any you’d add to the list?” Then I thought that at a future meeting in a day or two you might jot down what you think my expectations are of you and I’ll see if I have anything to add. Once we’re both satisfied that our requirements are known, then perhaps we can give each other some feedback by putting green, yellow, or red lights next to the needs that are well met, partially met, or poorly met.”

Breakthrough! If you experience one or more of these adversities, and you find the counsel a little thin, call me or send an email for more ideas. If you have a friend who’s overwhelmed at work by one of the troubles on this list, do what friends do and share the advice.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Korenich 09.22.10 at 12:12 pm

Sam – I have the pleasure of attending your seminar presented to the fellows class of the Insitute for Intrepreneurial Excellence last spring. As a receipt of your monthly emails, I have enjoyed your words of wisdom. This one is particuarly helpful to me as a Career Coach for executives. Thank you for the insights.

Mark Brown 09.23.10 at 9:22 am


You are a modern day Buddha! Keep up the great work and Thank You.

Take Care


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