We use labels in many ways. Arguably most labels serve a useful purpose, and some even protect us from danger.
Take canned food, for example. While gone on our honeymoon, our friends got into our apartment to have a little ‘fun.’
The one thing our friends did was remove all the labels from the cans in the cupboard.
While it might have been an adventure for each meal, they left the labels behind, so reconstructing them wasn’t too big of a deal.
What happens, though, when you use labels to justify the existence of a problem?
One team I worked with had a manager who regularly lost his cool. Actually, he would become downright abusive when things weren’t going according to his plan.
It got so bad at one point I witnessed one of the team members resign amidst one of his tantrums. The team member went to his desk, grabbed his things and walked out.
When I talked to this manager’s manager about his behaviour, she told me, “Don’t worry about it, as he’s just a passionate person.”
In other words, she used ‘passionate’ to justify his behaviour.
By definition, she certainly wasn’t wrong.
The manager was undoubtedly passionate about trying to succeed. However, his passion spilled across a line into something destructive to the team.
Being passionate isn’t a problem. My wish is that you can feel passionate about the things you do.
However, it’s a problem when the passion comes with behaviours that cross a line into something detrimental or destructive for a team.
Dealing with people problems can be very challenging. The challenge is recognizing when your anxiety about a problem is getting in the way of finding a solution.
Think of a time you needed to have a difficult conversation with someone. This conversation is now the problem as it’s not something you want to do.
What did it feel like for you as your thought of having this conversation?
Did you have butterflies in your stomach? Did you find yourself feeling very tense? Was your mind going 100 kms/hr?
Those feelings are the anxiety you’re feeling about the problem. And, when you feel anxiety, you get to choose how you’ll deal with it.
You have two choices in confronting a problem. You’re going to either confront the anxiety or the problem itself.
An easy way to confront anxiety is to apply a label to the problem. For example, “Don’t worry, as he’s just *passionate* about his work.”
In doing this, you justify why a problem is what it is.
In other words, you’re making an excuse.
Guess what will change as a result of making such an excuse. That’s right, nothing.
Well, in the short term, your anxiety will feel better. However, before long, the problem will return to you.
I’d recommend, instead, that you accept the anxiety as an indication of something wanting to happen.
In my example of the manager, instead of justifying his behaviours, his leader would be better off having a coaching conversation with him.
Spend the time to find out what’s going on for him.
Perhaps he’s feeling attacked due to the problems. But, on the other hand, it might be that he doesn’t even want to be a manager.
Whatever it is, when you look for clarity about a problem, you have the opportunity to change anxiety into solutions.
Solutions that don’t need labels make the world around you a little better.
It’s what leaders do.
You’ve got this.