Peel the layers

“All I see are problems, problems, problems”. 

After the umpteenth time I asked for approval to work overtime, I was called in for a meeting with my manager to talk about my ‘problems’. Highlighted copies of my emails requesting extra time to finish my work were on the desk in front of me. It felt like an interrogation. 

“Why can’t you get your work done in 7.5 hours, and what are you going to do about it?”

My heart was in my stomach and I was too afraid to say what needed to be said. It didn’t feel safe to share the truth with this person. So I didn’t speak up, and continued to struggle – for years.

How many of you have seen these kinds of patterns before:

A coworker who keeps calling in sick or showing up late. 

An employee who’s always withdrawn and agitated.

A student who keeps screwing up.

A new graduate who can’t keep up.

A manager who’s suddenly become quick tempered.

A work friend who’s forgetful and making repeated mistakes.

A colleague who isn’t pulling their weight. 

It’s easy to look at these people and get annoyed and frustrated. Easy to look at them and tell ourselves a made up story about who they are and how we need to manage their ‘problems’.

Easy to forget there are reasons why people struggle and falter.

After addressing the same issue multiple times or seeing repeating patterns in people, rather than blaming and punishing their behaviours, we can try peeling the layers to understand what’s driving their behaviours. We can:

  • Listen and let people talk without interruption and judgment.
  • Get curious about underlying emotions.
  • Help people articulate what they’re experiencing.
  • Allow for awkward pauses.
  • Seek to understand the underlying issues.
  • Show up with ours heart and uncover the truth.

This works for clients who don’t take their medications, it works for colleagues who routinely show up late, or run behind. It works for friends who seem unhappy.

Peeling the layers and attending to people’s emotions and experiences is uncomfortable, but it’s more effective than judging and criticizing and much cheaper than the costs of suffering and disconnection that result when we don’t bother digging deeper.

It’s hard to expect better when you don’t know what’s getting in the way of better.

Everyone has an untold story that needs to be heard.