The Manual

When Yours Doesn’t Work

It’s you, not them.

Let’s talk manuals.  Super helpful right?  They assist us in understanding processes, practices, and putting together furniture that come in a box with 3452 pieces.  They help us in knowing what to do and in what order.  They ensure quality results.  They give us knowledge, understanding and a sense of order.

Until they don’t.

And that is when we’re talking about human behavior.

Then, they can really suck.

Because human beings do what they want and don’t do what they don’t want. And that is okay.

Except when it isn’t.  To us.

And this is the complexity of relationships and leadership.

I’ve studied human behavior for nearly 40 years, and I know this to be true.  People do what they are motivated to do.  Not what we want them to do.

Our job as leaders is to  create a motivating environment in which goals and expectations are understood, aligned and achieved.  But here is where manuals cause us angst.  When they don’t work.

There is a difference between your goals and expectations, what you need people to do to perform at work, and the general manual we each have for how humans beings, and our employees, peers and bosses should behave.

Here are a few examples:

  • My peer is leading a project team meeting, he is generally scattered, meetings are all over the board because there is no agenda, and sometimes (often) the meetings run late. I dread these meetings and am in a chronic state of annoyance.  This is meeting management 101.
  • My boss delegates to me. All the time.  I think, what about the others on the team?  What are they doing?  Why do the toughest assignments always come to me—not that I don’t like challenges, I absolutely do.  But there is something unfair about what is happening in this team.  I’m being taken advantage of.  I think others are rewarded for non-performance.
  • One of my employees has a lot of quirks. She excels at her goals but drives other people on the team crazy.  They don’t include her in social interactions, and well, I don’t think she cares.  She really doesn’t connect or bond with the team. And everyone is okay with that.  Except me.

In each of these examples, there is a common theme.  See if you notice it.

My peer should run meetings effectively, with a clear agenda, focus, they should begin and end on time.  It should be a valuable experience for everyone.  We should meet our goals.

My boss should be developing the whole team or deal with non-performing members of the team.  He should be distributing work equally and fairly.  Everyone should be performing at a high level.

My employees should be operating as a team.  There should be synergy and cohesion.  They should be helping each other and be exhibiting friendly relationships.

What do you notice about these scenarios?  The dreaded word.  Should.  How we should be running meetings, or managing our employees, or working together as a team.

Shoulds are judgments.  A belief that others should be acting a certain way, doing things a particular manner.  Operating the way we would.  Our “shoulds.”

Ah, the manual.  Anais Nin has an insightful quote about how we navigate through life:  “We don’t see things as they are.  We see them as we are.”

And we expect them to behave like we do.  See page 51, paragraph 3 in My Manual.

Which causes us stress, annoyance and frustration.  Because of course people can do what they want, how they want with careless disregard to our manuals.  How irritating is that?

This is not to say that we can’t provide our own point of view.  We can give the peer feedback on running meetings more effectively, or we can opt out of the meeting.  We can have a difficult but honest conversation with our boss.  We can share our perspectives and our building resentment.  Or we can find another job.  We can set new expectations for our team to interact more cohesively, and to encourage a foundation of respect.

But in each of these cases, we cannot change the individuals’ behavior. It is their choice to make.  Their life to live.  Just as we have our own choices to make when things don’t change, or people don’t change their behaviors.

Which is much clearer when it comes to employees of course.  Because in that case, we can certainly identify goals and expectations which need to be met.  We have the right and responsibility to ask others for what we need to achieve goals and results.  And if they don’t achieve them, of course, there are consequences and ramifications.  It is still their choice.  It’s their decision.

What causes us pain is when we think that they should choose the “right” answer, which is our answer.  Rather than their answer.  Which may have an unpleasant consequence to them.  And to us.  Because we want them to simply follow The Manual.  The ones written for Good Employees.

But our peers?  Our boss?  Our families? Our friends?

Not so much.

They get to choose.  And we can choose to remain chronically irritated and annoyed by those choices, or we can accept them.  This means accepting others for who they are.  Not who we want them to be.

That is in the final chapter of the manual.  How to live with others by accepting that they control their choices, their behaviors, their decisions, their lives.  They have a manual which may be wildly different from ours.  And that is okay.

Except when we tell ourselves that it isn’t.