Are you protecting something even though no one else wants it?

Grace spends a lot of energy protecting the beef bone that no one else really wants. Her fear of losing it creates the most anxiety for her; being open to what others want or need is the best approach. 

Grace loves her marrow bones. It’s one of her all-time favorite treats. So when Oliver and Dodger even throw a glance her way, she goes into protection mode.

Those cats could care less about a beef bone. They haven’t once licked it or attempted to play with it (despite the fact that every single item in our home becomes a cat toy at one time or another). So it’s with great amusement that my husband and I watch this encounter. Grace will run across the room to get in between the cats and her bone. Lots of energy and emotion are spent on a fruitless exchange. Dodger is a frequent instigator, and poor Grace is left feeling drained from having to watch over the bone.

Do you have an employee who can push your buttons like that? Perhaps you’re setting the stage by hoarding information and/or access to open dialogue.

One of the most unproductive exchanges in the workplace is when someone holds on to an idea, or process, or project only because it’s their idea or they feel inappropriately protective of it. Having too narrow a focus on any one thing will not allow the best ideas to surface.

Letting go and opening up the conversation about all angles of the situation brings out the best. Of course it takes time and commitment to engage more voices in the discussion. It may seem like it will slow you down, or open up a can of worms that you aren’t too excited to get into.

But rest assured, if that can of worms exists, it will be opened. And it is much easier, faster, and more effective, to address it earlier rather than later. For one thing, if ideas are offered earlier, it’s simpler to address them and/or react to them. If one person, or a small group, is hell-bent on moving in one direction before those who need to implement it are on board, it will take longer — especially if they don’t want to get on board!!

If you have a project or task that is not being accomplished as you thought it should be, ask yourself how it started. Did you give a directive about a change and just assume everyone will follow along with clear explanation and exploration of all the options? What roadblocks exist for them to accomplish what you have asked them to do? Do they agree with this new direction?

To be clear, you can still decide on a course of action that differs from the feedback. Explain to everyone what you heard and the rationale for whatever choice you have made. Then ask the team to give it a shot and provide feedback as things develop. Continue the two-way dialogue to track how things are going.

Grace would never consider asking Oliver or Dodger why they stare at her while she’s chewing her bone. That’s a mistake. They might tell her that they like the smell and want to be near it. (OK, that’s an unlikely answer, but we don’t know what they might be thinking until we ask.)

Don’t hold on to something for fear of losing it. Engage others and it will likely come back to you with a better perspective.

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  1. Laurie Bartolo on June 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Great post Robin! Daisy can also be protective of certain items, and we are just glad that Webster is not that interested in them. It is amusing to watch her guard something that he doesn’t care about. But it’s not so amusing to see that behavior in the workplace, is it? The most disappointing part is how prevalent such behavior is in the workplace. I think it has gotten worse with the bad economy, as people became more fearful of losing their jobs. They just don’t see how collaboration will make them more valuable. This behavior is also rampant in low trust environments. If employers want collaboration, they need to be sure the climate supports that behavior.

    • Robin on June 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      I agree, Laurie, it would be absolutely awesome if more employers promoted a collaborative environment. Managers need to model behavior before it will be established throughout the culture. I thought of you when I used the ‘sketch’ technique in Photoshop with this post’s picture! I stumbled upon it and I liked the look for this topic. It’s pretty cool what a click of a button will do — love technology! I can see why you have fun with your dog photos!

  2. Judy Ringer on June 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks, Robin. I love the lessons you draw from watching your animals. They go right to the heart of things.

    • Robin on June 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      Thank you, Judy, so much for that.

  3. sara on June 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    ok, I am subscribing again for the third time. Why O why do I keep missing your blog posts? Lets hope it works this time for me.
    This post is excellent as usual. I think also that by letting go of an idea and letting others partake, also gets rid of the stress which would naturaly accompany trying to control every aspect of a thing or plan.

    • Robin on June 12, 2012 at 7:06 am

      Hi Sara! So thrilled to have you subscribe; I just checked and you are definitely on the list now so not sure what happened before but you are all set now and thank you! Excellent point about how letting go of an idea also allows the stress to go away. In fact, just this morning, I was thinking of a situation I’m in and I was working hard to figure out how to handle it — then I realized I can ask the team how they want to handle it! I don’t have to control the course of action; it will be much better if everyone has a stake in it. As always, thank you for being here and commenting. (P.S. I’m in the middle of reading your most recent post, will get back over soon!)

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