Q: My organization seems to be increasingly paranoid. All my behavior is seen through the most negative lens. I find it exhausting to be doing things for good reasons and be perceived as "up to no good." Is this getting worse in companies and people, and how do you manage this problem at work?
A: You can manage others assuming the worst about you if you can manage your own self-criticism. The problem really is not that society, the workplace and people are becoming more paranoid; the problem is the meaning we make about this reality.
You are not wrong that we are increasingly a country where we all walk on eggshells about our behavior and word choices.
The truth is no matter how many sensitivity training classes we take, others may be offended even by the way we say "Good morning." People who are determined to find offense will identify offense even if they have to make it up. The other truth is the perceptions of others are not a result of our intentions.
We may intend to be Mother Teresa in the workplace and still be experienced by others as a demon from hell. Believing others can see your pure and benevolent intentions is a recipe for corporate misery.
Yes, we all find it hurtful when we try to help and people believe we mean to harm. Yes, it is normal to try to defend ourselves or explain our good intentions. However, none of us can go to work and avoid running into people that think we are "bad" sometimes. The real immunization is what we deeply believe about ourselves.
On Monday, try observing the reactions of others as being only a reflection of their feelings about themselves. What would you learn about each of your co-workers? Is the one who accuses you of treating him as if he is stupid worried about his intelligence? Are you sure this is your treatment of him or his internal fears about himself?
Obviously others do have observations and suggestions about us that can improve our people skills, but repetitive assumptions people make about us are usually not about us. Consider how much data you'd gather about others if you stopped assuming that every reaction was your fault.
Be empathic, be effective and be kind in the workplace, not because you can guarantee you will be seen as good but because it feels good for you to live in a world where this is who you are. You cannot count on others to applaud your benevolent intentions, but you can enjoy the experience of being the best version of yourself regardless of your circumstances.
The last word(s)
Q: My company makes it really hard for me to get promoted. Should I just look for another job?
A: No, business success is never about taking the fast or easy road. As Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter observed, "Timing, perseverance and 10 years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success."
(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)