Realistic Expectations and the “I’m not being listened to!” Paradox

Often I work with people who are feeling very stressed at work and one of their biggest complaints is “I’m not being listened to!” We live in a world where we have much higher expectations of work; we expect to be consulted on any and every decision in work that will affect us or our job. But often that expectation is unrealistic, misunderstood and causes discontent and unhappiness.

Our relationship with work is very different in the 21st century than it was for our grandparents. They would have had much lower expectations of being consulted about decisions that might affect them at work – quite frankly it wouldn’t have happened. However, despite this they were often much less stressed about their jobs. Having lower expectations meant that they were much less disappointed and therefore felt much less frustrated.

I also work with plenty of managers who are weary of managing individuals who want a long debate every time they are asked to do something that they would prefer not to. Whilst there are undoubtedly cases of managers overstepping the mark and bullying employees the word ‘bullying’ is often used to describe the behaviour of managers who are trying to address poor performance or implement unpopular but necessary decisions for the survival of the organisation.

So here are a few challenging pointers on how to feel less frustrated at work when decisions don’t go your way.

  • Don’t confuse your right to have your say with your right to have your way. You are entitled to have a view on decisions at work but that doesn’t mean you’re correct and it doesn’t mean other people (especially those who have the power to actually make the decision) will agree with you.
  • Redefine success in terms of your behaviour, NOT the other person’s behaviour. If success means that your manager has done what you asked then you are going to be a victim of their decision making. Success is that you acted in a calm, professional and dignified manner. Let’s unpack those three terms:

– Calm means no shouting or raised voices, no over-reacting, no tears, no threats. Listen to the other person’s point of view and try to see it from their perspective.

– Professional means that we don’t rely on how we personally feel about a decision; we use data, research, factual examples or anything objective to support our argument (don’t fall into the trap of making the thinking error of Emotional Reason – assuming your own feelings reflect the way things are).

– Dignified means showing a composed or serious manner worthy of respect – not sulking or storming out because the decision went against you.

  • Disagree and commit” is the phrase Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon uses to describe a management principle which states that individuals are allowed to disagree while a decision is being made, but that once a decision has been made then everyone should commit to it.
  • Don’t undermine the decision or engage in any activity that increases the likelihood of the decision failing. You will get found out in the end and there could be dire consequences.
  • Let go! If you can’t control a situation then let go and channel your energies into something else which you can control.
  • If you really can’t commit to the decision do the honourable thing and look for a different role either within the organisation or outside it. There’s no benefit for you, or the organisation, in remaining in your role whilst being unhappy and resentful that you ‘weren’t listened to’ (actually you probably were listened to, you just weren’t able to persuade people to your point of view and there’s no shame in that)
  • “But I don’t see why I should look for another job” – ok don’t; stay in your existing job and carry on being unhappy and resentful, you’re welcome to your misery.

Some of these pointers might seem harsh but when considered in the light of a psychologically healthy relationship with work they make sense; it’s just a job!

Two little quotes to finish with:

Don’t confuse having a career with having a life – Hilary Clinton

If you don’t like where you are move, you are not a tree – Anon

This article was written by Dr Rick Norris


2 thoughts on “Realistic Expectations and the “I’m not being listened to!” Paradox

  1. If you don’t like where you are move, you are not a tree – Anon
    I love this saying. So true!
    There are people who consistently moan about their job and all that is wrong with it, but do nothing to change or improve the situation. Often there are other options available to us. If you have the power to change things you are unhappy with then do it.

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