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Guest Blog: Who Winds You Up at Work?

Some people are just .....

Annoying

Mean

Rude

Inconsiderate

Lazy

Irritating

Self-obsessed 

You get the idea!!  Some people really rub us up the wrong way. 

In work we have a jumble of people with different backgrounds, different futures, different priorities - and we can struggle with that because it's not like us.  

Over time, (or even immediately if our reaction is that extreme) the way we feel about these people shows up in how we behave in work. 

Take a moment to think.  Who winds you up at work?  

Hold them in your mind as you read through some of the responses we have to people and see if you recognise any of these – 

  • Ignoring and/or avoiding them (to pretend the issue isn't there)
  • Arguing about something else (to show that we're frustrated with them without actually saying what the real problem is)
  • Picking on them or even bullying (to send the message that they're not wanted and they'd better sort themselves out or go)
  • Talking about them with others (to get comfort that those others think the same as we do)
  • Or talking to the boss (in the hope they'll do something about it because we’re too scared to / don’t think it’s our job to)
  • Or just blowing up at them (because we’re having a bad day and it’s all got too much) 

If nothing else happens to change the dynamic between the two of you, it's likely that one of you will end up working elsewhere. Leaving both people with an uncomfortable residue of emotions and thoughts. And quite possibly worse if bullying has taken place. 

Not a healthy situation for anyone to be in.  And, in fact a place that's reminiscent of the school playground - except that kids would just come right out and tell their classmate that they smell! 

The reason it's reminiscent of the playground is because our brains are lazy and are stuck on the same neural pathways we established as kids.  Once our brain experiences something it creates a path.  For example, as a child we might learn that if A happens, the answer is B.  And, as our brain is sooooo lazy, it likes to fit as many situations as possible into that same path - because starting a new path would all be a bit of an effort!  So the brain's conversation with itself goes something like this "Well, it's vaguely the same as that other situation so let's go with that same path and say that it's A, so the answer must be B, again." 

So this means that the paths we create in our minds from our experiences as a child can become very well-travelled as we grow up.  And the more the path is travelled, the deeper the rut becomes, making it ever-harder to take an alternative route as the wheels of our thoughts spin and skid in the deep muddy tracks. 

But we can forge new paths.  And as we're all different it can take us all different amounts of time to find and carve out these new routes in our minds but we can all do it. 

What it takes is looking for the evidence and facts about what is really true as we stand here today, as adults.  

An example of this was someone I used to work with who interrupted me all the time.  It drove me bonkers!  What was even more frustrating was that, because he always interrupted, he didn’t hear everything I was saying and so would ask me the same thing days later. 

My frustration came from a well-trodden path in my childhood brain, established by parents and teachers, that said “don’t interrupt, interrupting is rude”.  As an adult I hadn’t updated this pathway and so, as far as my ego was concerned, this person was being rude to me.  Our brains perceive a threat to our ego in the same way they perceive a physical threat – hence my frustration and (internal at least) ‘fight’ response towards his behaviour. 

Eventually I knew I had to do something proactive before I exploded in a very unpleasant way, so I said it; “I don’t know if you realise it but you interrupt me a lot.” 

He was shocked!  He genuinely had no idea he did it.  He was fairly new to the role and was so caught up in his own thoughts about what he needed to learn that he had no idea about the behaviour he was showing to others. 

So not only did this help me update my own brain with a new and true pathway – “not everyone that interrupts you is being rude, they might have other stuff going on”, it helped me see the second half to the equation of a relationship. 

Because not only have you got your own stuff going on in your head that’s making you feel wound up, but they also have stuff going on in their head – stuff that might be based on their current situation, or it might be stuff that’s come from their recent or childhood past too.  And there’s always something.  All our behaviour is driven from our thoughts and feelings, so whatever you’re seeing is happening for a very good reason as far as that person’s brain is concerned.  

Our automatic response is to judge others by our standards and often from a ‘holier than thou’ standpoint, as if we’re the pinnacle of human perfection (by the way, in case you were wondering, you’re not perfect).  The trouble is these standards are so often the ones which were set in that childhood phase, back when things were black and white, right or wrong, and where there was trouble if you got it wrong! 

Once we realise that not everything in our head is true, and once we realise we’re not perfect, it changes our perspective on others.  We become less judgemental.  It helps us appreciate that they’re not perfect either, and that they have thoughts in their head that are untrue too. 

From this perspective, you can then become curious about what’s going on for that person to understand what’s causing them to behave in that way.  So often the thoughts driving their behaviour can be innocuous and they can be completely oblivious to either what they’re doing or the impact they’re having – like using your milk out of the shared staff fridge! 

So next time you feel wound up by someone, stop for a moment because you have a choice.  You can be wound up and use one of those options at the start of this piece. 

Or you can ask yourself what you’re thinking that’s causing you to feel wound up.  And then you can ask if, as an adult, you have evidence to show that what you think is true – always. 

Chances are it’s not.  And if it’s not, there’ll be something else that’s true instead. 

And then you can become curious with the other person, choosing to sit in understanding, rather than judgement. 

Not everyone has this insight and so harassment and bullying are real workplace problems that happen all the time.  The team at Bray and Bray can help you if you are experiencing harassment, discrimination or workplace bullying.  To speak to an employment law expert, call 0116 254 8871 or alternatively you can email Ian Lewis directly at idlewis@braybray.co.uk 

 

This blog has been guest written by Helen Amery of Wild Fig Solutions. Helen is an Executive Coach for Directors and Senior Leaders to help them create a great culture in their business.  She’s seen the difference people can make to a business, and the difference great bosses can make to those people, so she spends her time helping bosses be great.  Helen has 15 years’ experience in HR and has a Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching.

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