Interpersonal Edge: The power of preferences

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Content Agency

Q: I had reached the end of my rope with this pandemic three months ago and know we're not at the end yet. What tools or strategies do you teach clients to stay productive when your get up and go has got up and left?

A: My first strategy is to grieve the loss of your expectations. When what we expect cannot happen we don't just get over it. We have to hold a funeral for our previous expectations. Then we can work on giving up our entitlements at work and instead have preferences.

The Buddhist traditions do an excellent job outlining the power and effectiveness of giving up our entitlements. An entitlement is something we believe reality owes us. When reality doesn't agree we usually get mad.

To the extent that we walk around with entitlements we sign ourselves up for grumpy misery. We feel deprived by our circumstances or others that what we wanted is not happening.

I recommend all my clients work on shifting entitlements to preferences. Preferences are what you'd like to have happen but know you are not entitled to having. When your preference doesn't occur you'll find it easier to yell, “plot twist,” and make a new plan. If we have entitlements we cannot tack when the wind changes. If you have preferences, when the wind changes you are able to adjust your sails and continue toward your goals.

A huge problem with entitlements is how upset we get that people or situations are not behaving according to our expectations. When we approach people with this angry, blaming attitude nobody wants to help us.

A simple example happened to me recently while attempting to order a French door. For 35 minutes someone either hung up on or me or put me on hold. I finally called the curbside pick up to get a live human and he connected me with Manish Gained, an angel in disguise at Lowes. He was amazing, I was grateful, he even walked me to the front of the store opened a register and rang me up. I sang his praises to his management before leaving.

Now what if I decided to be in a bad mood because I was entitled to not having people hang up on me or put me on hold when I was spending a lot of money? What if I had brought that energy into Lowes? Instead I nodded at my preference and sailed into the store delighted I had found good help. My ability to have preferences rather than entitlements made both my day and Manish's day a whole lot happier.

Every day in every situation the people around you can help you or hurt you. You're normal if you have entitlements and the consequences of having them is you alienate the same people that can make your day. Ask yourself if you can shift your entitlements to preferences.

I can guarantee you will not always get your way. What you can guarantee if you can shift to preferences then not getting your way doesn't ruin your day.

Know what you want but hold that goal lightly ready to change directions when reality blocks your initial wishes. You'll find a delightful Manish Gained in your corner of the world waiting to graciously help you achieve your goals.

The last word(s)

Q: I'm working with small kids at home doing remote learning and feel like nobody gets how overwhelming it is to juggle kids and pretend to be fully productive at work. Is anybody out there doing a good job with this?

A: No, any working parent with little kids that is doing well is probably riding a unicorn. There's a joke circling the internet that sums up the pain of working parents, “A husband asks his wife what the first thing she wants to do is after the pandemic. 'Get a babysitter,' the wife replies!”

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's “Workplace Guru.”. She's the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006).