It’s tick season. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t find at least one tick on Grace. Finding and removing these rather troublesome parasites gives us a lesson for how to better handle difficult colleagues and eliminate workplace dysfunction.
Ticks are more than annoying, they carry real health dangers to dogs and humans. Part of the challenge is how hard they are to find, given their size and ability to linger around with few signs. Unlike other warm weather bugs — like mosquitoes who let their presence be known with a sharp, buzzing sound that drills into your ear or the black flies that swarm you — ticks attach themselves quietly and hang around indefinitely, taking as much as they can from you while offering you nothing. This scenario is the same in our workplaces. It is very unhealthy and you have to be alert to recognize the trouble.
Workplace dysfunction can often be subtle and insidious
Ever feel like someone in your organization sucks the life out of you? Sometimes the drain is so slight, that you don’t even know its happening until you get a break from it and only then become aware of how overpowering it is.
Recently, I was talking with a very talented and competent executive who shared her story with me, a perfect illustration of that scenario. She has worked in the same organization for several years, and over that time, has consistently dealt with peers and the top leader who — in my words not hers — acted like parasites. After her return from a short medical leave of absence that allowed her a fresh perspective, she could more easily see how they had been feeding off her ability to get things done, without offering any encouragement, direction, or leadership in return. They have used her expertise as their own fuel, providing nothing productive to support her. She has been able to accomplish major initiatives, in spite of the relationship being one-sided. Now that she sees the situation for what it is, she’s ready to tackle it constructively.
One of the dictionary definitions of a parasite is someone who receives support or advantage from another without giving any useful or proper return. In our workplaces, these relationships don’t build the organizational trust and respect that is needed in order to reach any kind of sustainable success.
Whatever our position is, our work will always impact another person, team, or department. I believe that everyone needs to be aware of the impact we are having on others. Are you the parasite? Or perhaps the host that allows the parasite to exist? It takes two to tango, as they say.
Constructive ways to remove the tick
That’s why I recommend that you get ticked off, so to speak. If you’re feeling that someone is taking advantage of a situation, you have a responsibility to address the situation. There are constructive ways to do so, and the earlier you catch it, the easier it is to solve. Ever tried to remove a tick after it’s gorged itself? Not fun!
Grace is a role model for dealing with this early. My husband and I have witnessed her pick many ticks off herself without any assistance. She is alert to the sensation of the tick as he crawls over her body. Once she’s located it, she starts to lick it, pulls it away from her skin, and then she chews it or tosses it aside. She’s found her own way to say, “Stop free-loading off me, you annoying nuisance, you.” And she does this early, not after it has laid into a cozy situation and becomes hard to deal with.
Keep these steps in mind to constructively address workplace dysfunction:
- First recognize there is an imbalance in the relationship. If you are constantly feeling that you’re carrying more of the workload than others, pause, and examine why.
- Find ways to discuss the situation openly and respectfully. Ask about obstacles the other person may be experiencing. Maybe it’s lack of training or time. Those are easier to resolve. If the person lacks interest to resolve, be clear on your own boundaries and expectations and hold to them.
Just as Grace has removed her own ticks, I think you should remove yours. Can you think of situations where you’ve been faced with a parasite hanging on you? What are constructive ways that you have changed the dynamic?