I posted these two photos on Facebook yesterday after Grace surprised me with an uncommon dose of patience. I always feel like I’m the one modeling restraint and tolerance in our relationship, but that’s just not true. That’s MY perspective, not hers. Of course, I’m only thinking about the things I do to ensure she feels safe, secure, or loved (which believe me, takes some patience when she’s barking incessantly at the UPS man while I’m trying to remain calm and professional on a conference call!). But there are many opportunities that she goes out of her way to tolerate me; I’m just not paying attention enough to recognize it.
Managers tend to do the same thing. They can get caught up feeling they are the only ones making concessions for employees, but I don’t think they recognize the other side of that coin enough.
A talented and insightful colleague, Renee Charney dropped a few words on my Facebook post, simply saying: “perspective and proportion.” That was all. Just “perspective and proportion.”
Because I love making connections in all things, I couldn’t stop thinking about her words. In workplace cultures, one of the most talked about issues is communication. Communication problems exist because two parties have a different perspective and they see the issue in an unbalanced proportion to each other.
Take the other morning, for example. Grace really doesn’t like the cold weather. For that matter, she doesn’t like extreme heat, either; she wants that perfect blend of a cool (not chilly) breeze as she basks in a warm (not hot) sunbeam. If we, as managers and employees, could find that ideal balance, where words and actions are in equilibrium, our communications would be perfect, too.
Grace demonstrated that balance on Wed when I was taking these pictures: I was completely surprised at how long she sat, patiently waiting for me as I continued to snap away. I started at the top of the driveway, trying to capture the beauty of the scene as quickly as I could because I just knew she would be fleeting away at any moment. On a typical day, Grace would dart off to the door, hopping and jumping to encourage me to speed up and usher her to warmth. But today, she sat. And sat. And sat. Wow, I thought, how amazing that she’s still sitting there. I carried on with my picture-taking, trying different angles and zooms, and still she sat.
For whatever reason, her perspective had changed on that morning. She offered me a little more freedom to take my time, not rushing me to do what she wanted. And I was grateful. It also made me think I’m not the only one making concessions. I think that’s a good thing for managers to consider, too. It’s important to recognize where you and your employee each work to support each other so you don’t start to fester about it being a one-sided relationship.
When I look at the first picture I took of Grace from the top of the driveway, she looks so small, lost among the mounds of snow, large trees, and open landscape. She was out of proportion — to me. But I don’t think Grace felt out of proportion at all.
When you, as a manager, have a disagreement with an employee (or visa versa, because employees can be at odds with their manager, too!), it is often because one person places a higher priority on whatever the problem is. It’s out of proportion.
You know that proverbial saying about ‘making a mountain out of molehill’? That’s what happens when we have things out of proportion. We make something more important than it really is — or just as problematic — we don’t take something seriously enough.
Work to get on the same page with your employee (or manager). Open your awareness to the other perspective and then check to see if you have the situation in the right proportion.
What can you do to create a common understanding of perspective and proportion in your leadership approach?