When we experience issues with another person, we often place the responsibility on the other person to change. It’s their fault that the problem exists in the first place, right? But my experience with Grace gave me a lesson in this flawed thinking.
The first few days Grace came home, she was an angel. Perfectly adorable. Then an occasional irritating incident would happen, like her walking by my bookshelves of cotton quilting fabric and pulling every piece off onto the floor, leaving a complete mess in her wake. It took me so much longer to put it back than it took her to pull it off, a routine we played out too many times.
Then, while enjoying lunch with a long-time friend and like-minded dog-lover, Grace growled at her for a reason that I could not identify. And a few days after that, a toddler was visiting and when eye-to-eye with each other, Grace nipped at her. I was worried. I wanted to trust that she would be a safe, well-mannered pet, at all times.
I was referred to a veterinarian who specialized in dog behavior. My intent was for this specialist to “fix Grace.” After the hour-long consultation, I learned I was the issue. Wow. That’s not what I wanted to hear. You mean I’m the problem? I have to change?
And so it is with people. Are you wishing that your co-worker would stop that annoying habit of never giving you the right information at the right time? Is one of your employees always making the same mistake? Are you about to hire an executive coach to help that other person change his problematic ways?
Before you do, remember that you need to be part of the solution. Both parties have to work together to figure out what’s broken, and determine what needs to change before any sustainable effort will occur.
Take the first step by approaching the person in a calm, non-threatening way. Let them know what’s bothering you and why. You could say, “Jim, I’ve noticed that you’re not saying a word at our quality review meetings, and yet I hear from others that you’re frustrated with some of our processes. Your input is vital to understanding the issues and I’d like to talk about how we can address this.”
Next, listen. Be open to hearing what you may not want to hear. Jim may have been shot down by you in previous meetings. Or prior suggestions may have gone nowhere and he’s now thinking: “why bother?” You need to be open to hearing honest feedback.
It’s not just Jim’s problem. It is your problem to solve, too.