May 29, 2016
It has been a challenging month to write for multiple reasons, but mainly because it has been difficult to accurately articulate what I want to say about this topic. Recently, I’ve been pouring over our Command Climate Survey data. In addition, as EEO Liaison over the last 6 months, I have been listening to many people throughout the command, confiding in me about their personal and work issues. In both the survey and as EEO, I have been reading and hearing about deep frustrations and disappointments among my teammates – i.e. human suffering in my workplace. I don’t just hear them, I feel for them. I was there with them not too long ago, so I understand fully what they are experiencing.
I am a fixer. However, what I have found is that in many cases, there is very little that I can actually “fix” for my teammates. For the most part, I can simply listen and make connections. Many times the people who confide in me don’t even want me to take any action for whatever reason… Other times, there are processes that simply constrain me from being able to do anything. I realize that when my hands are tied, or when I feel helpless, my own frustrations are exacerbated.
I sought some advice from various people, other professionals in similar roles as well as some friends and co-workers. Some asked me, “Why are you taking it so personal?” Others simply stated, “You shouldn’t take it personally”. Moreover, I was advised to “NOT get involved. You don’t want to listen…just refer them…and you shouldn’t have to deal with it”.
I choose to disregard the latter. It is simply not an option for consideration (to me). I believe we NEED to be involved with our teammates. We SHOULD be listening to their complaints and concerns. Why anyone would advise me as someone in the role of EEO to “not get involved” is beyond my comprehension. Furthermore, as a researcher, not being engaged or involved with our people simply goes against all the research on engaged employees and organizational performance and effectiveness. This advice simply does not make sense to me.
As for “taking it personally”, it is personal because these are my teammates, the people who are on my team. Work is where I spend the bulk of my waking hours and while I understand that by “not taking it personally” I may be better able to protect myself in legalities and work contexts that can be challenging and maybe even threatening to my workplace. However, what my teammates have expressed and articulated – whether in a survey, focus group, or to me directly – are their own perceptions of their experiences while being on this team. It is their REALITY, therefore, it is PERSONAL.
I haven’t always taken work personally. A couple of years ago, I was very frustrated with work and with the people at work. When I confided in a co-worker, a supervisor, they simply told me “NOT to care so much”, that I would only become more frustrated and maybe even hurt. Unfortunately, I took that advice and I depersonalized myself both from my work and from the people on my team. I was miserable at work and I was miserable with myself. Hence, I understand and relate to many of the issues that I have read or heard recently. And then… I was given an opportunity to volunteer, to be engaged. I seized it wholeheartedly.
“Taking it personally” does not mean I am attaching so much self-worth to my work that I allow my teammates’ complaints to penetrate my self-esteem or identity. In no way do I measure my self-worth or self-esteem by CAT survey participation or EEO complaints. I do not consider these as a failure or representation of my value or worth as a person or as a team member. My life nor my career are defined by this.
However, as a leader, I believe I SHOULD take things deeply personal. Yes, I will get hurt along the way. I will be disappointed, be let down, and sometimes wonder if it is worth it. But to not take it personally so as not to be disappointed is like not falling in love so as to not be heartbroken. For my own sake and for my teammates – I prefer to take it – all of it – personally.