Posted by: Kristen Ridley | January 8, 2013

Do, or shut up! – there is no whine!

FrustrationWith major apologies to Yoda, from whom the title of this post – a shamelessly messed-with version of his “Do, or do not – there is no try” was coined – I’ve been ruminating on a post by Seth Godin called: The Whiner’s Room which I absolutely loved.

Godin is pretty much always on the pulse of things, and I get a lot of value from reading his posts. He’s way smarter than I can hope to be, but I keep trying!

When I read this post – which is about the uselessness of whining – I thought about myself, and how I approach things that irritate, or frustrate me. The post made me stop and ask myself: “Am I a whiner?” It’s a good, and important question to ask on a regular basis, especially for a communicator.  Communicators are almost always at the mercy of other people in trying to accomplish our assignments, and since most of those other people don’t report to us, AND, the information, support, collaboration or work we need from them to get our task(s) completed are almost never at, or even near, the top of their to-do lists there are frequently times when it almost seems that people are actively TRYING to frustrate our attempts to get things done. Cue the temptation to whine.

However, in the end whining about this reality of a communicator’s life not only doesn’t accomplish anything useful, it frequently actively interferes with, and delays your ability to get stuff done.

So when I’m frustrated and finding myself tempted to cue up the whine-chorus, I try to re-focus myself on the more effective responses to things not immediately working out the way I’d like them to. Here are those responses, just in case you’re interested:

What is the objective? When things aren’t going my way, it’s pretty much human nature to grind your teeth, stamp your foot or just generally have a tantrum [probably a figurative tantrum, if you’re an adult and you work in a corporate environment, as I have for most of my career]. But as I said above, while this may be the visceral reaction to frustration situations, it a) doesn’t accomplish anything constructive, and, b) doesn’t make you feel any better in the long run. The bottom line is that you STILL have to deal with whatever the situation is, and if you have a tantrum about it first, then you’ve created an emotional turmoil for YOURSELF that you now have to work through BEFORE you can get back to dealing with the situation, which you still have to do at some point. So when I hit an obstruction to my goals, first, I take a deep breath, and then I ask myself: “What is my objective here? What is it I need to accomplish?” Once I have refocused my attention on what the ultimate goal is, I can usually put aside the drama and the frustration and start taking the actions that will help to move towards that objective.

Don’t take it personally – If you have experienced situations where something or particularly someone has been an obstacle for a goal you are trying to accomplish, you may have read that first tip above and thought: “Yeah, right! You don’t know the kind of people I have to deal with, who make it almost impossible to get things done!” Well, I assure you – I DO KNOW!!! Like I said at the beginning of this post, by its very definition, a communicator’s role is the unfortunate situation that we are almost always trying to get cooperation and action from people we can’t force. And while I appreciate that it often FEELS LIKE people are making our lives difficult on purpose JUST TO DRIVE ME CRAZY!! Of course, when I take that breath [okay, sometimes it’s 9 or 10 breaths!] and step back for a couple of minutes, I know that isn’t the case. We all have things our boss is expecting us to accomplish, and given the nature of business today, those things are likely to be numerous and complicated and time-consuming. So, when someone else – like me, the communicator – comes along and cheerfully asks a colleague to add YET ANOTHER THING to that ever-expanding list, you can understand why that colleague doesn’t immediately and cheerfully start on whatever you’ve requested, right? It feels personal, but it really isn’t, and if we stop to think about our own lives, we remember that OUR deliverables are what is top of mind for us, not whatever other people need. So, I find reminding myself that the lack of cooperation that appears to be a personal affront is really just that other person trying to do the things their boss expects. Like it or not, WE are not the priority of our colleagues lives – that is just a fact. Once I remember that, I can focus on finding ways to make doing whatever I’ve requested easier for my colleague. Whether that’s shifting a deadline, or splitting up tasks between multiple people, there’s usually some way to help the other person do what I really need them to do, and most people appreciate that you’ve recognized that they have deadlines and projects too. When others feel appreciated and understood, they’re more willing to help you get what you need.

Find the common ground – when you are dealing with competing objectives, the best way to get the cooperation you need to get your own goal met is to find the places where what you need intersects with what they need. There’s almost always something that you can reference or point to that demonstrates why doing what you are asking will also provide some progress on something the other person needs to do. It may not be as urgent as what you are asking, but if it’s something they WILL need to do, and assisting you will move one of their own projects ahead, you at least have a fighting chance at getting the action you need. This is an area where a communicator is especially qualified, because our jobs always require that we work with, and understand the realities of, many, if not most, of all the other departments in our organizations. So we are usually knowledgeable about the other departments already, and we can quickly find that common ground, so we can then demonstrate the WIIFM [What’s in it for me?] principle, which is always the best way to convince someone to do something they may not initially be inclined to do.

Be a planner – One way to head off at least SOME of the cooperation challenges communicators face as a basic fact of our lives, is to be a strong advance planner. Because we know what we need, who we will likely need it from, and what their other obligations are likely to be in relation to our projects, starting to plan for those requests for inter-departmental cooperation as soon as we are assigned a project is a good way to manage the challenges. If you map out the key milestones for a project as soon as it appears, as well as identifying what you’re likely to need and from whom as the project progresses you can prepare for those requests and manage them in they ways most likely to result in the cooperation you need. Sometimes that means giving a colleague a lot of advance warning about what you’ll need and when so they can work that into their own deliverables. Other times that may mean asking your leaders to smooth the way with your colleague’s leader so that the time and effort required to do what you will be asking has already been agreed to before you even get there. How best to plan and prepare is a decision each communicator needs to make based on the realities of your circumstances, but it can be done. Will it ALWAYS be successful? Of course not. But even if you can make headway a portion of the time, then you are further ahead than you were before. And as a bonus, you’ll have more time to focus on those projects where these tips aren’t working if you’ve dealt with the tasks you CAN influence your colleagues to help on.

These tips are obviously just some suggestions to try to help the busy communicator get things accomplished. I’m not for a moment pretending that I have all the answers – I don’t think anyone does – but I find every little bit of insight helps. What I’ve learned does NOT help, is whining. Although it’s tempting [sometimes it’s REALLY tempting!] to wallow, I’ve learned the hard way that all whining really accomplishes is to make me feel bad, and slow down the eventual constructive actions I need to take to make progress on getting the job done. Sometimes, just getting ONE THING successfully accomplished in a tough day can make the difference in my overall motivation and continued ability to keep moving forward. These are the things that have helped me to gain more cooperation from my colleagues, and that is something I really NEED to gain to do my job successfully. I hope at least some of them are helpful.

What are YOUR tips for getting the inter-departmental cooperation communicators need? Please chime in with your ideas and add to this list – Thanks!

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