What is actually in our control?
In a coaching session a few weeks ago, my client asked me how to effectively manage one of her direct reports. Under a lot of pressure at work, this person made rude comments to my client and communicated in a way that was inappropriate. My client wanted to meet with him, to share her thoughts and perspective, and to communicate professional boundaries.
"What would a successful outcome of this meeting be?" I asked her.
Her reply: "For him to see that he was totally wrong and apologize."
Of course that's what she wanted. That's what most of us want: to have other people acknowledge that they are wrong, and that we are right. We want them to "see the light" and change their behavior accordingly.
Here's the thing, though; we can't actually control what other people do. We can't control how they think or behave, or the words that come out of their mouths. My client can't control whether her direct report is sorry. Given that, and given that we want her to view her meeting with him as successful, I recommended that she choose another way to measure success -- a measure that she actually has some control over.
Being a leader means having a firm grasp on what is NOT in your control, and what IS in your control.
Even though my client can't control her direct report's thoughts, there are many pieces over which she does have control, including:
- Sharing the impact of his words on her
- Asking questions to fully understand his thoughts and perspective
- Setting and communicating clear boundaries about what's OK and NOT OK
- Making a request around his behavior and communication
- The words, tone, body language, and energy she conveys in the conversation
The next time you sit down to a difficult conversation with a colleague, take a moment and remind yourself what's in your control, and be intentional about all of those pieces. Then, let go of what's not in your control.