Put It On the Table!

Rick, an energetic co-worker at a title insurance company where I worked, had a habit of double-clicking his pen while he thought about something or scanned documents for details pertinent to his current title search.  It annoyed us all, but Jim is the one who put it on the table.  “That does get old, after a while. Ok, rather quickly,” he smiled, “but I’m not going to try to be your big sister or anything. How about if you agree not to do that during meeetings, and I overlook it the rest of the time?”

Voila’!  It’s on the table now.  In a way Rick doesn’t feel diminished or scolded, but now aware of his annoying habit. Rick began by consiously setting his pen next to his legal pad during meetings, picking it up only to make a note. I smiled to myself when Jim grinned over at him, obviously thinking “Did you have to click it twice just now?” but said nothing.  The good-natured non-verbal was both affirming and acknowledging.  Rick did have an annoying habit.  But he was working on it, and that was good enough.

Because he knew. LIFE - SCRABBLE tiles

“You can’t work on what you don’t know” seems so basic, so UNprofound, but that people everywhere live and work encumbered by what they don’t know is  much too common. Maybe your team is one of them.  How many times have you learned of something you could have worked on earlier, had you known?

A couple years ago I learned that a superior had determined I was not a good fit for the team but didn’t say anything for a year and a half, and only then when I asked point-blank.  By then it was too late to re-tool and refine how I performed. I had history and norms too well established to change up to satisfy one individual.  I’d observed in my years there that this was how he worked and knew the best thing to do was quickly and quietly exit stage-right.  I remember saying distinctly and rather emphatically to the leadership around the table,  “We’ve got to put these things on the table where they can be seen and addressed. It’s impossible to work on concerns you know nothing of.”

Two weeks later I resigned, giving three months’ notice and put our house up for sale. It sold in four days, for our asking price, thankfully, so I went back to the leadership.  “I’m going to be homeless in 60 days, I need to leave a month sooner than I proposed.” They agreed. I intentionally chose the high road, but for over a year I wondered: What could have been different? What would it have taken for him to put his concerns on the table where I -where we- could address them and strengthen the team? Was I really that bad a fit, or was it something else.

I’ve stopped asking those questions now, it’s water under the bridge –a bridge with the organization I’ve NOT burned, by the way– and I’ve more important things to do,  one of which might be to help you think about un-spoken concerns and the unexpressed expectations in your world.

What do you see in your circle of influence that could be improved – if only someone knew?  Do you believe in them? Genuinely love them? You need to. Do you desire the greater teamwork, the greater family dynamic?  That growth could be the result of someone gently learning about whatever it is that’s harmful or simply annoying, but they don’t know.  Maybe it’s something you’d really like to see happen, in a positive light, but they have no idea you’re thinking thoughts that ambitious.

Don’t do anything rash, or spontaneous for now. Just think. Look for possible ways you might put those things on the table. Life is more important than a table game so you’ll want to do this well.  Pray for wisdom. Imagine some possible scenarios, but hang tight.  I’ll be back in a couple days with a follow up post offering some ideas as to how it can be done skillfully,  like Jim’s above.

The world, your team, your family, will benefit from you doing this well.

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