Work-Life 9/24/2015

Intellectual Alchemy: How To Transform Recurring Situations Into Unique Opportunities by LJA


Do you ever find yourself in the same old situations, wondering why on earth something keeps happening to you? What if there’s a way to go from living the “same old, same old” Ground Hog’s Day experience to a new adventure each day? With a little mental agility, everyday conflicts can go from the same s&%#, different day to magical moments.

Repetitive Madness

Imagine yourself sitting around a table, listening to everyone speak in turn. All of a sudden, the meeting goes south and everyone is in a tizzy. You’re not really sure why, but emotions are running high, someone flies off the handle, and the others stand back shocked by what just happened. Meeting is adjourned and everyone goes their separate ways. All are left wondering what the heck just happened.

This kind of situation happens every day in the workplace. They’re inevitable and require a level of composure and self-mastery to tolerate, if not totally avoid. After a while, disagreements and drama weigh down upon even the most emotionally stable person and the steady influx of disagreements can wear us down like Chinese water torture. In order to avoid insanity, the first instinctual thing to do is to change environments - change jobs and get the heck out of dodge. However, we find that these unpleasant situations (shockingly) seem to follow us everywhere and I hear quite often, “I don’t know why I keep finding myself in these kinds of environments and these kinds of people and in these kinds of situations!”

Unfortunately, there exists no professional utopia despite even the most well-meaning corporate cultures driven by the most inspiring leaders. Crappy stuff happens. Daily. When I work with clients who experience “mysterious” repetitive issues - I ask them to dig deeper and go beyond the typical why me question to what about me question. Meaning, what is there to be learned from this situation about our own intellectual resilience in relation to our work environment?

Flexibility: Redefining Mental Discipline

Last time, we talked about golden opportunities, and how career disasters are teachable moments. But what about those small, incessant and seemingly tortuous situations that get on our nerves? We can’t just explode like was illustrated earlier.  We must be more agile than that, both mentally and emotionally. Mental training to deal with large crises and small annoyances is a leadership must-have. Some people explode in anger, while others passively aggressively torture others, and a vast majority simply suffer in silence. All because we don’t know how to intelligently respond to and transform complicated situations. No matter how we express our suffering, it’s all madness.

One might imagine that mental discipline suggests being as hard as stone; an impenetrable mountain fortress that few dare to scale. What if, instead, one could be a mental ninja, having a mind so agile and disciplined that it works with the present circumstances in order to blend in and accomplish goals?

Mental resilience is being so flexible that we can’t break. Strength through flexibility is an undersold asset in the leader’s talent portfolio. We get so hell bent on a specific outcome and expectation that we choose to develop strength as a way of protecting ourselves from pain - even from the most minor aches. I don’t advise mental strength as a way to avoid feeling pain - pain, after all, is a momentary discomfort that signals the need for change and shifts. Mental strength and flexibility is a virtue that leans more intellectual responsiveness to changing social and economic environments and the contradictions that alienate us from others. 

Intellectual Alchemy Creating New Outcomes

Answering the question about our own mental strength in relation to mysteriously repetitive situations transforms the cycles into new outputs. Instead of looking at everyone and everything at work as a potential nuisance or battle waiting to happen, it’s possible to place the person or situation into a neutral zone while looking at the issue in a different way. I know this happened to me just recently.

I was in talks with an individual about making a reservation for my business. For several weeks, after reminding the person about my reservation and receiving several promises, I discovered that someone else took my space. I was pretty upset and felt betrayed by the person who broke their word. Instead of blasting this person with a heated email and “putting them in their place”, I took a giant breath and asked myself, “What can I possibly learn and do differently in this situation so we can move on from here?” Instead of merely pointing out their errors, I decided this time to just talk about what happened and how it made me feel.

This time, my betrayer revealed themselves to have made several mistakes and over promised to several people. They weren’t “conspiring” against me, afterall. They simply flubbed up and ended up embarrassing themselves. I know I’ve been there before and as a result of empathizing, I was able to calm my nerves and go back into a problem solving mode with the spirit of collaboration and mutual accountability. While I didn’t get what I originally wanted, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the person who let me down worked to find another solution to help me out. I know if I blasted them before, I might have been left feeling righteous, but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to move forward with this integral person.

From this situation I learned something completely new because I did something completely different: Even though this person hurt me, I’m going to try respecting them anyway. Afterall, it’s how I would have wanted to be treated.

Changing Our Minds To Change The Minds of Others

With that said, had I been “tough” and “rigid” with my thinking, I would have fallen right back into my old behaviors and habits - which, as my personal history has taught me: leads me exactly to where I started. I had to bend my thinking in such a way that I could take on a new, responsive attitude that could not only A) solve the problem but B) create new situations that can lead to new opportunities.

Some would call this taking a fair and balanced approach to management, but I think that’s just a by-product of intellectual agility. Intellectual agility demands constantly challenging our own paradigms - instead of immediately challenging those of others (managers, subordinates, clients, etc) - in order to shift the situation from annoying and potentially explosive to educational and harmonious. It’s far easier to convince others to change their minds when we are flexible enough to do it first.

Coach Leslie’s Questions To Ask Ourselves:

1.     What part of recurring situations are influenced by my recurring behaviors and attitudes?

2.     What would my thinking flow chart looked like if I decided to react differently to an uncomfortable situation?

3.     How rigid am I in my thinking? When was the last time I thought with flexibility? What was the result?

4.     What if things were magically different and amazing, but NOT how I expected them to turn out? What would things look like?

5.     What is a tough situation that I am navigating right now? Do I wait for someone to change their mind? What would happen if I changed my mind first?