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How a spider web tells us to weave what we want and embrace change

On most weekday mornings, the alarm goes off at 5:30. About 15 minutes later, Grace and I head outside for a quick walk. My eyes are blurry and I’m not totally awake, coffee comes later. So the other day when I glanced up and saw this heavy string-like image hanging in front of me, I thought I was seeing things. After all, it’s a bit dark at that hour this time of year.

I literally wiped my eyes, trying to figure out what it was. Holy cow! Could it be a spider web?? This was a cobweb of epic proportions. Not a traditional circular web, but a thick, strong thread like I had never seen before. I stopped to examine, making sure not to run into it. It reached about 30 feet from the retaining wall of our driveway to some high branch in a tree across the road. It was swaying in the breeze, strong, comfortable, and carefree, nowhere near a breaking point. I found the end of it near where I was standing, then realized there were several other shorter “lines” along with a few round webs, too. This spider had been very busy and had created some amazing results in a very short time.

What does a spider web have to do with managing people or creating better workplace dynamics?

There are a couple lessons that come to my mind. For starters, nature is a role model that amazing things can be accomplished. If a tiny insect can spin a tough tinsel that will sway safely in the wind, it makes me believe that we humans are capable of miracles, too. Are you limiting your potential because of our own belief system or organizational constraints? When we believe that we can spin the web of our dreams, what would it look like?

Things can happen fast, move with it! This elaborate web network happened overnight and by afternoon, all of it was already gone. It reminds me of the saying, “the only constant is change.” Animals and plants in nature have to adapt in order to survive but we often resist change in the workplace. This spider had exerted a ton of energy but there was nothing to show for it within the span of a day. That was probably his plan, building what he needed but knowing that it wasn’t permanent; he then moved on to a new place for his next meal. If we want to survive, we need to adapt to our environment or move on to a new one.

Finding your spider web

I almost walked right by this spider’s work without seeing it but I was thrilled that I had noticed it. Not only did it capture my attention in the moment, I went out to check on it several times that day! I never did see the spider but I felt some connection with him since I was admiring his work so much. It makes me realize that when we have an awareness of our environment, we tend to treat it better and care more about it. Paying attention to what is around us, whether it’s people, animals, objects in nature — well, anything such as the mood we are in or the achievements of our colleagues — impacts and enriches our thoughts and interactions. What have you noticed today in your environment that you may have missed before? And how did that change the way you interacted? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

What to do when you don’t know what the problem is

Managers are often expected to have all the answers. And of course, good managers will find solutions when they see it as a priority. Yet what do you do when you don’t know what the problem is or don’t see it as important? Often times, we do nothing. I’m guilty of this, too, but Grace gave me a reminder this week about why you should do something even when you don’t know exactly what the problem is (or would rather not deal with it!). 

Grace was having neck problems this week and I had hoped it would work its way out without my intervention. It didn’t! Whether an employee hides or exaggerates symptoms of a larger issue, you need to acknowledge the problem and take action to resolve it.

While Grace and I were on our typical walk Monday afternoon, she lunged at a heron that was unexpectedly just ahead of us near the road’s edge. Between her rush to reach this large bird and my instinct to pull back, the leash jerked her in a rapid, awkward motion. I was in awe of the beautiful heron and never once considered any ramifications for Grace. But later that night when she showed signs of discomfort, my husband reminded me of the heron incident. Could she have pulled her neck out of alignment, he suggested? Maybe. Though she didn’t seem bothered when it happened and the whole thing seemed so minor to me. I figured it would work its way out. Over the next few days, she walked without noticeable signs of pain, but there were other indicators that things weren’t quite right. She laid around with her neck in a particular way, didn’t want to eat her dinner, and whined a lot. By Wednesday night, my hope of having this issue “work its way out” was now becoming a very bad idea. It wasn’t improving, in fact, the opposite. This was not what I wanted: my plate was already bursting and oh, how nice it would have been if this issue would just vanish without my involvement.

Recognize there is a problem

In the workplace, I see this happen a lot. Employees can exhibit subtle signs of discomfort, but a manager doesn’t pick up on it, or worse, downplays the importance of it. Even though Grace’s whining was hard to listen to, she definitely uses it as a tool to communicate with me. And because she never passes up a meal, that got my attention! During the course of the week, she was making it increasingly difficult for me to ignore the signs of the problem.

If your employee is timid or stoic, he may not want to ruffle feathers by complaining. Or on the other extreme, a team member might grumble about something you think is ridiculous. Either approach makes it easier for you to dismiss the issue. However, not taking action is not going to fix the problem. The resentment will build, making matters worse.

Do something about it

How long do you let your employees suffer? Remember, even if you don’t agree with the situation, it doesn’t make it less real for those that are experiencing it. There is really no excuse for putting your head in the sand. Do something. Talk it out together. Enlist the help of others. If you feel someone is making more out of a situation, express that, too. Set expectations for acceptable behavior and hold everyone accountable to the same standard. And even if you can’t immediately solve the problem, your commitment to work on it goes a long way to ease anxiety about it.

In my case, I finally accepted on Thursday that Grace’s issue wasn’t going to resolve itself. I called the chiropractor, who offered to fit us in at 6:30 the next morning (I was very grateful for her sense of urgency!) She found that Grace’s topmost vertebra, called the atlas, was out of alignment. Within 15 minutes, the problem had been identified and a solution in motion. But Grace probably wondered why I didn’t do that days ago for her. Your employees might be wondering the same thing.

The sooner you address a problem, the easier and less time-consuming it is to fix it. Getting all the pieces in alignment doesn’t always require a chiropractor but I highly recommend using as many resources as you need to tackle an issue. You don’t have to be the solution, but you do need to ensure it happens.

There are times when blinders actually work

This soft covering over Grace’s crate subdued the lighting flashes during a recent thunderstorm. Giving her a cocoon of safety worked marvelously and it is a good practice when you need a little space before deciding what action you need to take.

I almost always advocate that you take action in a troublesome situation. But there are times when it is advantageous to put on your blinders. Grace reminded me of that advice the other night, along with offering clues to the appropriate time to take cover.

This past week in New Hampshire, we’ve had some thunderstorms rumble through. On Wednesday night, just after we went to bed, the skies lit up with lightning as if it were fireworks from the 4th of July. Grace sleeps in a crate with the door open so she can come and go but the enclosure gives her some comfort even on normal nights. This particular evening, with the lightning fast and furious, she started to pace. There wasn’t much thunder but the continuous flashes of light were frightening. I invited her to jump in bed but she continued to pace. She knew that even in our bed she could see the same thing so that wasn’t really a better option in her mind.

I got up and went into my sewing room, fetched a large piece of fabric that I could drape over the top of her crate. Right away, she went back in, curled up, and settled in her blankets. Even though the cotton cloth had not fully eliminated the disturbance, it was enough so she could calm herself down. I’m sure she wasn’t completely at ease, but this artificial barrier had provided a cocoon of safety.

Blinders can help you get through an anxious moment

There are times in our workplaces that we can do the same thing: put blinders on to help us get through an anxious moment. Here are my guidelines for appropriate times to do so. Every situation is different so it’s hard to offer absolute parameters, but these are times that I see your best bet to hunker down under the radar:

  • When you have no control over the situation
  • When the conflict doesn’t have high stakes
  • When the anxious moment is short-term
  • When you are so overwhelmed that good decision-making isn’t likely
  • When you need more time to think clearly

Blinders should be a temporary action

Putting on blinders should be a temporary action with the goal of getting you through a tough moment. But we should not default to this state for long. Delaying or avoiding needed action is only going to make matters worse for intense or important situations.

The next time a quick storm passes through your office, pretend you have a soft blanket hovering over your head. Allow this cocoon to give you space and time so the issues don’t feel so intense. Then after the heat of the moment, you’ll have a clear head and you can take the action you need.