Interpersonal Edge: Innovative problem-solving secrets

Innovative problem-solving secrets

By Dr. Daneen Skube

Q: I spend most days upset about how incompetent most people are and how little they care that they are incompetent. I end up fighting my own grumpy attitude and take it out on co-workers. I don’t want to end up being the office Grinch, but how can I respond more effectively?

A: You’ll respond more effectively if you expect little and appreciate much! When we go into conversations expecting much and appreciating little, we alienate the people we need to help us.

I typically spend hours of my time with pri- vate clients agreeing with entitlements they have on how others “should” behave. My clients are smart, high-functioning adults and they have every right to be upset that many people are not so high-functioning.

The trouble is our opinions and expectations of others don’t change the maturity of others. If we expect little of others, we may be pleasantly surprised rather than furiously disappointed.

Having low expectations of others is different than having high ambitions for yourself. You can let people know you hope to run the department, invent a brilliant product, or reduce turn over.

Aspirations for yourself are vastly different than high entitlements about others. If you think no one should be rude, careless, or incompetent you’ll make yourself very miserable, very fast! If instead you enter relationships with a low bar, then you can only be pleasantly surprised and grateful.

As Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, wisely advised, “Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” We cannot muster much gratitude when we come into work relationships with entitlements that most people, most of the time, will not live up to.

Realize that it’s understandable to be upset when people fail to meet your expectations. There’s nothing wrong with wishing everyone had high integrity, was smart, empathetic, and competent. However, if you go into relationships feeling entitled to this high bar, you’ll indeed turn into the office Grinch. Effective interpersonal skills require a foundation of accepting that life and people owe us nothing! If we can grieve our entitlements, we go into the office on Monday wearing a cloak of gratitude.

Turns out appreciation is cat nip to co-workers and customers to do more of what we appreciate.

The opposite is true for resentment when others fail our entitlements. People will give us even less than they did before because they’ll resent our resentment. Again it’s fine that you have ideas about how others should behave. However, these ideas won’t motivate others to improve.

Some new clients tell me it’s wrong to quit being grumpy when people fail to deliver what my clients expect. I tell my new clients that if being grumpy could transform human nature, we’d already have fixed war, hunger, and violence. Then clients rethink their interpersonal strategy.

Take a moment of silence for the funeral of your former entitlements. Step into your workplace on Monday cloaked in gratitude and with no expectations. Enjoy your new ability to expect nothing and appreciate everything. Observe as those around you improve, as your expectations and grumpiness decrease.

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).

You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.