Just Because You Can…Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You Should

The other day, I was ambushed by a colleague. It wasn’t intentional…she didn’t mean to ruin my morning. But it happened. These things do.

I had given this colleague some information, expecting her to hold it close and not divulge it. With the info, I also shared my opinion about the info, again expecting her to never repeat my words. However, the next day, I got pulled into a conference call with her – and her boss – and the topic of discussion was the news I had given her the previous day! I was totally caught by surprise and felt betrayed and ganged up on.

So what to do?

leadership training skills active listeningA few years ago, when I first did my leadership training and learned skills like Active Listening and I-Messages and Shifting Gears after confronting, I hit the ground running. I felt like a superhero with a secret weapon, and I was quick to bring it out whenever I could.

Roadblock! ZAP!

You-Message! BONK!

Conflict! KAPOW!

Taking a leadership training course is sort of like starting an exercise program, or taking up a new hobby. You have so many breakthroughs in how you approach situations and how you function day to day, that you want EVERYone to jump on your bandwagon and get with the program. You feel better – it’s empowering to be able to own your feelings, to take responsibility for your own actions, to let go of something when it’s clearly not your problem—so you figure everyone should feel this good!

But I’ve found it just doesn’t work that way. I learned that the best way to teach people to communicate with me in a respectful way was not to beat them over the head with it, but instead, influence them just by BEING the skills. Ah, the superhero has now turned into a ninja!

I used to watch the GI Joe cartoon on Saturday mornings, and at the end of every episode, GI Joe would teach a skill or life lesson, and then end with, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!” For me, knowing is everything. And having that knowledge means I can (and should!) pick my battles.

So, back to my friend at work. When I was ambushed, I mean, when I was brought onto the conference call, my first feeling was one of betrayal. Then I got a little ticked off. I thought about all the different ways I could confront her and let her know how the phone call made me feel. I even thought about walking over to her office in the next building and talking with her face to face. But then reason set in and I had to figure out who owned the problem. And that’s when empathy and understanding kicked in.

I had to break down the situation and analyze her behavior and figure out if it really impacted me. That was a huge one. And in doing so, I had my epiphany. I owned the problem.

Here’s why: I had never actually told her to keep the news (and my take on it) a secret. And to make matters worse, the morning of the phone call I was in a tremendously touchy, bad mood. Aha! There it was! What happened wasn’t really a big deal at all. The big deal was knowing if it was necessary to confront or not. Just because I can, doesn’t necessarily mean I need to.

And as my buddy GI Joe says, knowing is half the battle!


Learn more about L.E.T.