By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. Is incompetency the new normal? Every time I turn around at work, somebody is dropping the ball, making a mistake or just being plain being stupid. I am really tired of having to pay for everyone else's mistakes. How can I stop having my job impacted by other people not doing their jobs?
A. You can stop paying for other people's mistakes if you start to assume in the workplace that whatever can go wrong will. Clients often come to see me in a dither because they have been assuming that everyone around them had the same sense of responsibility and work ethic that they do. If you are trying to make yourself miserable, this is a good assumption to carry around.
The truth is most people feel overwhelmed by their jobs, their family, their health or life most of the time. In the 12-step addiction recovery programs, the first step involves admitting that your life has become unmanageable. Unfortunately, most people - whether they are addicted to anything or not - feel that their lives are unmanageable.
If you are that rare human hybrid that pays attention, puts problems out when they are simply smoldering, not on fire, and walks around with a constant Plan B, you are nearly as rare as a double rainbow.You simply cannot count on other people having this level of awareness and responsibility - and if that irks you, you're destined to be irked all the time.
If instead you assume most people, most of the time, are dropping the ball, you will tend to be right and less upset. Let's say you have a doctor's appointment during your lunch hour and have to be back at 1 p.m. Do you cross your fingers and hope everything goes smoothly? If instead, you call the day before double-check the appointment and make it clear you have limited time, then call before you leave your office reconfirm and restate you have limited time, and when you arrive restate your schedule you are more likely going to be back at work within the hour.
The strategy I recommend is that you begin to diplomatically double-, triple- and quadruple-check any arrangement you believe you have with other people. You cannot approach these emails and conversations with hostility about your presumptions of their incompetency. Instead, be calm and neutral but firm about making sure everyone is reminded about what you need.
You will do more work on the front end but extinguish the chaos, resentment and emergency scrambling you're doing on the back end. Also you are slowly training people around you to be more competent because they just know you will double-, triple- and quadruple-check all arrangements.
You'll find your workplace will once again become manageable, chaos will be a rare event, and people around you will seem more competent. Then again, you are not giving much chance for them to be incompetent.The price you will pay for all these goodies is to give up your cherished assumption that everyone around you should already be functioning at a high level. If you hang onto the world where people should always be competent, you will get old and frustrated. If you are willing to work with the world you are actually in, other people's mistakes will cease to be your problem.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact her at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This was printed in November 20, 2011 - December 3, 2011 Edition.