Work: What’s a worker to do?

When you’re a worker bee, stuck in an unsatisfying work situation, it’s easy to find someone to blame. Your co-workers, manager, even the “big boss:” if only “they” knew what they were doing, everything would be better.

The Reality Therapy approach doesn’t spend energy on figuring out where to place blame. Instead, emphasis is directed toward, “What can I do? What are my options?”

 This article is one in a series  about the workplace.
You can find the first article in the series here.

In recent columns, I introduced Winston, who works on Winnie’s team. Winnie and Winston have different perceptions of a bad situation. Granted, they both acknowledge that it’s bad, but blame each other.

One bone of contention is Winston’s suggestion-making behaviour.  He perceives that he is trying to improve things; Winnie perceives that he is a troublemaker.

Now, Winston has decided that he’s serious about having a more satisfying work environment. However, with Winnie in charge, is there anything Winston can do?

First, let’s encourage Winston to ask himself, “What am I hoping for when I make suggestions? Do I just want to improve my workplace? Am I hoping for advancement? What do I really want?”

Then ask, “What have I been doing?” Winston’s been speaking up at every team meeting, despite a packed agenda where everyone’s in a hurry.

So, how well is his behaviour working for him?

Winston acknowledges that he’s generally unhappy at work. Recently, Winnie snaps whenever he offers a comment; it’s clear that she has heard quite enough from him. However, that response is not universal. His teammates appreciate his ideas, and other leaders have commented that they like the way he thinks.

What might Winston choose to do differently? Effective options will depend on what he wants. For example, if he simply wants to improve his workplace, then he could:

1. Consider finding a more effective way of communicating with Winnie, such as asking for specific direction. “When I observe a problem, what would you like me to do?”


2. Attempt to build rapport by acknowledging that he’s aware of Winnie’s reaction. “I can see you’re upset about my suggestion. Would you like to talk to me about it?”

3. Ask Winnie what she wants, “Do you want suggestions?” If so, then, “How would you like to get them? In meetings? Privately? In writing?”

Note that if Winnie responds that she does not want input, Winston will get no value from being angry or complaining. He’s gained a new piece of information; it may lead to new choices.

Different options may be appropriate if Winston is hoping for advancement. For example, he could choose to direct his creativity toward a more receptive environment within the company. He could also choose to learn and develop skills in working with difficult people, valuable anywhere!    

While Winston can try new behaviours, ultimately, he can’t make Winnie respect him or his ideas. Winnie may refuse to develop rapport with Winston. He still has choices: to continue miserably as he is, or to proceed differently.

Next column, we’ll look at options from Winnie’s point of view. What do you think she might try?

The next article in this series is here.
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