TOM #11: How to see what needs to change

Posted on: July 31, 2022

There's no one who wants your business to succeed more than you. And there's no one working harder to make it successful than you.

And yet, you may be part of the problem.

Because you’re human. 

Getting in your own way is something all of us do, whether we are business owners or not. We tend to be familiar with some of our not-so-helpful behavioral patterns. But we are blind to most of them. 

And we are almost always blind to what’s behind them…what is driving us to repeat any of our not-so-helpful patterns.

I call the ways in which we get in our own way and the underlying motivations for these behavioral patterns “blindspots.” So get ready for lots of visual references and metaphors!

In today’s issue, I offer a lens that will help you see some of your blindspots and expose the unconscious drivers behind them.

How to use the way others behave to see what needs to change.

One of the fastest ways to locate blindspots is to index all the things you’re avoiding, tolerating, and ignoring. You’ll quickly expose the things that are robbing you of your energy, so you can cut them off. (See TOM Issue #6 for details on Energy Vampires and how to get your power back.)

Today, we’re going to narrow the scope of this approach and focus specifically on the behaviors you’re tolerating in your most important relationship(s).

Step 1. Choose at least two of the most important relationships you have to reference as you read this section. Your business partner, your general manager, your VA? Your spouse/signficant other?

Step 2. Grab a piece of paper and a pen or whatever you use for capturing thoughts/ideas. Make a list of things you're tolerating in each relationship.

  • 💭 What does this person do (or not do) that bothers you?
  • 💭 What does this person do (or not do), despite you asking them to start/stop doing it?
  • 💭 What makes you go nuts in this relationship? 

Anything that generates even the slightest agitation, frustration, or inconvenience merits inclusion.

Seriously. Every. Thing.

Step 3. As you review this list of things you’re tolerating…

  • Look for themes. What are they?
  • Look for differences. What is different, if anything, between your gripes in different relationships? 

Some people notice they have different complaints in their personal and professional relationships. Or that some issues that are chronic “at work” are not an issue outside of work. Some people notice there’s a thematic issue throughout all of their relationships.

Simply notice what you notice. There are no right or wrong answers.

Now for the blunt truth:

People treat you the way you’ve taught them to.

In some way(s), you are complicit in creating the things you’re tolerating in your relationships. I’m not saying you are responsible for other people’s behavior. But what I am saying is you influence it.

This is evident in your own behavior.

Let's consider timeliness as an example.

Some people are on time for everything. But whether you are super punctual or not, you have a sense of who can handle you being late and who cannot. You know who will be tolerant of a delayed deliverable (or belated birthday card), and who won’t be.

The person with whom you can be late has taught you that it’s okay to be late. Perhaps they have identified under what circumstances delays will be tolerated. But not everyone makes such criteria explicit and specific. Usually you have a gut sense about how late something can be for a given person and/or a given situation.

So let's continue uncovering your blindspots.

Step 4. Looking at your lists, consider how you have taught these people that it’s okay to (not) do what they’re (not) doing.

What do you do that lets them know it’s okay?

Maybe you are annoyed that your assistant doesn't plan ahead effectively for when she's out on vacation. Maybe you are agitated that you end up doing that thing that she said she was going to do. Or worse, no words are spoken–it’s just assumed that you’ll do it.

Perhaps you’re irritated that your chief of staff fails to keep you fully informed on certain accounts or projects which exposes you to moments of confusion, embarrassment, or frustration.

Maybe you have been trying to discuss something with your partner for weeks, but it's like it always is with him and particular topics. He maneuvers the conversation to something else and averts your attempts to redirect back to your topic of concern.

  • What feedback/response, if any, have you provided them about this behavior? 
  • What words or methods did you use to communicate this feedback/response?
  • How clear and actionable is your feedback/response?
  • What do you do (or not do) that lets them know you'll tolerate this thing they do (or don't do)?

Example 1: Chris

One of my clients was frustrated that her team members were short on ideas during a time when she needed them more than ever. They were pivoting from an in-person to all-virtual delivery model for their training programs, and she needed every program director to take the lead in transitioning their program. What she didn’t realize is she’d taught her team to wait until she had decided on how things would be done before they’d take action. She was unaware that all of her feedback on ideas from her team, no matter from whom she received it, was critical. Her first words were always about what was wrong, missing, or inadequate.

It may be obvious to you, but Chris was unaware. She had had 20+ years as an engineer before launching her education company. She was treating her staff of teachers like she treated her team of engineers, but she was baffled that this approach wasn’t working like it had before. She needed to update her approach to match her new circumstances, rather than continue to blame her staff for failing to be creative and proactive.

Example 2: Wesley

Another one of my clients was frustrated that he was frequently interrupted by his staff. Wesley was the person they consulted for guidance anytime something was different than they expected it to be. Like every entrepreneur, Wesley was a great problem solver and he was accustomed to being the one to solve them since the beginning. He was a solopreneur for 3+ years before building his team. And since they came onboard a few years ago, they'd come to him for answers because he always had them. He needed to put processes into place and shift the way he and his team thought about his time rather than continue enduring avoidable interruptions.

It’s easy for us to read these examples and “diagnose” a solution, but that would mean we’ve jumped to conclusions about what the actual “problem” is. 

We behave in our relationships like we do, because we are benefitting from things being this way.

What is unconsciously driving you to "teach" people to do things that frustrate or upset you?

It’s unlikely that you’re consciously aware of the benefits. But it's the benefits that are the real drivers of your behavioral patterns. And until these are addressed/shifted, you will keep behaving (or relapse back into behaving) in ways that perpetuate the exact things you want to stop tolerating in your relationships.

Step 5. To excavate these blindspots, let's use two of the Outcome Frame Questions from TOM Issue #5: How to get clarity

  •  What would you like to have happen in this relationship?
  •  What might you lose that you value when it does?

Chris was critcizing her staff’s ideas, because she felt responsible for fixing whatever problems might arise. She tried to avoid problems by ensuring things were done the right way, and she was confident she knew what way that was. Chris would lose control–and to her unconscious mind, losing control is worse than being frustrated with her staff.

Wesley was entertaining regular interruptions in order to help his staff. He consistently put their needs above his own. He worried that if he put his needs over those of his staff, they might leave him. In Wesley’s unconscious mind, working overtime was better than risking loss of key staff members.

By exposing what you might lose that you value when things change, you'll uncover the blindspot that has you allegiant to things staying the same. You'll know why you're "teaching" or encouraging people to do things that cause you distress. And you'll know where to begin making the shifts within yourself to make things work better!

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