Identifying Gray Areas That Benefit You More
It seems I spend considerable time helping people look for something in between “all” or “nothing” and “right” or “wrong.” Black and white is clear, and that clarity might make it easier to choose sides on many issues. But when it comes to work, there are more gray areas to be considered than there are actual absolutes.
There is gray in almost any scenario involving people. Jumping to conclusions can cause someone to overlook the good in any situation. It’s not uncommon for people to use sarcasm or language considered inappropriate by some when conveying a message. If something is said that sounds different from what you want to hear, a question can easily prompt a discussion to get to the heart of the person’s true intent to make sure you understand them. Although the listener’s first response could be “I don’t like the sound of that,” it doesn’t mean the message itself is bad, wrong or without value. While the onus may be on the sender to consider their choice of words, the listener may also be at a disadvantage if they don’t take a few minutes to think past their initial reaction and consider the intent of the message. Likewise, if assumptions are immediately made based on a first impression without considering all that might be going on around a specific scenario, who really wins?
Now don’t think for a minute that I don’t make assessments or judgments. Due to my work as a coach and a consultant, there are many times I have to make quick decisions based on someone’s comments or behaviors. It also means I have to find ways of checking my assumptions or waiting to see if the issues I am responding to reappear or are consistent. In the meantime, I avoid making any absolute decisions until I have the opportunity to hear new information that might change my initial reaction to someone’s behavior or story. It means looking for clues to help me connect with someone, rather than looking for reasons not to. Yes, it is sometimes hard. Yet, if I reacted only to what was comfortable or familiar, I might have only a slight percentage of the clients I have.
The analogy here is that work, work circumstances and workplaces all have a variety of things that can be considered from a different perspective than our immediate reaction. By allowing ourselves to get caught up in the “all or nothing” thinking that maintains that everything should be comfortable, easy or like me, we might miss out on some pretty exciting opportunities to grow or learn. We might also miss out on short-term opportunities that, if managed well, could help us catapult beyond the immediate discomfort to a position of more interest or to a group that we like more.
So exactly how do we stop ourselves from bolting or shutting down? If you are currently unsatisfied with your work, customers or workplace, the following are some tips for seeing past your immediate frustration.
Stop following SOPs. You know what they say about “crazy”— doing the same thing, the same way, expecting different results. If your job search has fallen flat, or if people are driving you crazy, then change your expectations. Try different approaches. Ask more questions. Find new ways of hearing and new ways of processing data.
Pay attention. Listen and read beyond the words. Look for the real point in communication. What are people’s facial expressions telling you when you are talking? When you read a job description, do you know if it is truly the reflection of the actual position or just the wishes of the hiring manager? Is the abrupt/sad/angry-sounding email you just received from a customer or your boss open to interpretation? Is there something going on in the background that might help you better understand their intent? Can you ask?
Adjust. Instead of shutting down, believing you can’t or assuming you have lost, try another approach. Reframe your initial response to one that someone with less invested might be able to produce. Ask for input from an objective party when dealing with especially difficult news or situations. Look for what can be learned or gained if you are able to stay in the “gray,” rather than close a door.
Look for a win-win. Sometimes shutting a door or saying no is a necessity. Sometimes a situation just requires a new perspective. If you really care about the overall outcome of any “all or nothing” scenario, then look for more areas in the “gray.” Use “what if?” questions to get to the heart of outcomes that might be more meaningful to you and others.
Be open to change. If your circumstances are uncomfortable, untenable or just plain boring, then logic would tell us that something needs to change. Hanging on to what is known because it is comfortable will only maintain your status quo and make the situation worse. Change can be exciting in and of itself. Thinking there is something new waiting for you that you had not even imagined can be energizing. Anticipating change can be scary or exciting — it’s up to you to choose your perspective. Beginning by envisioning a change that will make you happier beyond your wildest dreams will help you get off the fence. Acknowledging even the slightest change can be motivation to make another.
If you have been stuck in the same way of thinking and are unable to achieve the outcomes you have desired, take another look at the ways you may have used “absolutes” to foil your results. There might be many more options to investigate that could lead you further along the path to your goals than you had previously considered.