I was onsite interviewing several employees about their work environment, when, between meetings, I couldn’t help but overhear the playful banter of two IT guys, pouring over a monitor at a station nearby.
They were trying to fix one problem when they apparently uncovered another, unrelated problem. They paused for a second. Then, one said:
“Not my problem dot com.”
He stared into the screen and moved on to something else. I giggled quietly. And I wondered: was he speaking truth, or could it actually have been his problem? It made me reflect on the confusions we all harbor about responsibility and our relationship to it.
So often, we take on problems that don’t really belong to us. Conversely, problems we need to consider, we disown.
What is the right relationship to responsibility?
Here are a few myths and insights that may offer some answers:
1.”I don’t want him / her to be upset”
The largest area of confusion about responsibility that I encounter is in relationship to feelings.
A boss has been instructed to take an employee off one team and quickly put her on another, but he stalls. He knows her talents are very well suited for this new venture, but he fears she will not take it well. He stays up at night, talks to way too many people, gets mixed opinions, and takes extra anxiety meds. He gets flack from the other team lead who needs the help.
He is a caring, sensitive person.
But he believes he is responsible for her feelings.
At the office, feeling responsible for others’ feelings robs you of your authority. At home, feeling responsible for others’ feelings causes us to adopt controlling, invasive or passive aggressive behavior.
Clarifying your true responsibility doesn’t mean you become callous or uncaring. Being sensitive is a gift, and being considerate adds value to any relationship. It is important to be mindful of the impact your actions have on others.
Others’ behaviors, however, can become our problem. But all too often we respond with this notion that distorts our responsibility:
2. “It’s not my fault”
Another large area of confusion about responsibility is around fault. People believe that if it is not their fault, it is not their responsibility. This is not always true.
You see litter on the sidewalk outside your doorstep.
It’s a mess you didn’t make. But it affects you.
A coworker isn’t pulling his weight but you’ve got a lot on your plate. In the end it won’t be your fault, so you don’t do or say anything.
If we are at work and an issue is connected to our ability to do our very best at our job, it is our problem. What we choose to do about it — right responsibility — it is relative to our resources and priorities.
Clean up the mess. Check in and problem solve with the coworker.
There are so many issues alive right not that are not your fault. Issues such as hunger or violence may not even effect you personally so it is easy to pretend they do not exist. Since it is our responsibility to manage our energy and not over extend our resources, we need to be realistic about how much we take on in addressing these larger issues. But as card carrying members of the human race, I believe it is our responsibility to at least consider them and if our actions contribute to the problems in any way.
Which leads us to the third myth of responsibility:
3. “I just want him/her to be happy.”
Of course you do!!!
Isn’t that what we all wish for our loved ones? Or what we want our superiors to feel about the work we’ve done?
And yet, similar to feeling responsible for others’ feelings, it is not our responsibility to make others happy. This can be so difficult to accept.
People we love may need to be the opposite of happy for an extended period of time in order for them to find the happiness that is true and organic for them.
Our bosses, due to a variety of limitations, may not be able to acknowledge us in the way we want. We need to find a way to be happy with our efforts.
At work, we are responsible for connecting our actions to our hired purpose. In love, we are responsible for keeping our actions connected to our hearts.
Hope this post helps you clarify your relationship to responsibility and improve your relationships in general!
If you have a convoluted relationship to responsibility that limits you, your relationships or your work in any way, let me know!