Jamie was recently promoted to Director at the financial services company that she has been working at for the past three years. While Jamie’s coworkers were excited to hear about her promotion, Jamie is now going to be managing many of the people that she had been working alongside for the past few years. As part of her new role, Jamie is required to provide her team members with performance feedback every quarter. These meetings are scheduled to occur in the next month, and Jamie has been feeling anxious ever since she learned about the meetings.
Jamie is feeling particularly anxious about having to give performance feedback to the team members who were, until recently, her direct coworkers. Jamie has spent many years building trust and respect from her coworkers, and she is afraid that giving any negative critique could change the team dynamic. Jamie has noticed that her anxiety about the reviews is pervasive throughout the day. She has physical discomfort, such as her heart racing and stomach hurting, and has already asked the HR department to push the meetings back…twice. Whenever her symptoms of anxiety are most intense, she finds herself thinking, “I need my team to like me if we are going to continue to work well together!”
Why is this belief leading to Jamie’s anxiety? Let’s break this thought down. What do we need in life? The real necessities for survival are oxygen, water, and food- everything else are things that we want, but they aren’t true needs. So, do we need everyone we work with to like us all of the time? Based on our basic needs, we definitely do not. I’m sure if you think back to different interactions you have had over the years, there are times when people haven’t liked you, and you’re still standing (or most likely sitting if you’re reading this). It’s definitely unpleasant to not be liked, but realistically it’s not a necessity for our survival. However, when we tell ourselves that we absolutely 100% need others’ approval, or to be liked, we start to internalize gaining approval as an upmost necessity, and we will do whatever it takes to get that approval and avoid disapproval.
While avoiding situations that could result in disapproval may feel better in the short-term, avoidance can lead to long-term problems that could prove even more uncomfortable (e.g., the team not meeting their performance goals). In Jamie’s situation, she is trying to avoid situations where there is a high likelihood of disapproval, because she is more focused on her discomfort in the short-term. As a result, she isn’t thinking about her team’s long-term success. Many supervisors will tell you that when delivered in an appropriate and effective way, feedback (yes, even negative feedback) can be integral in helping people to succeed professionally. By avoiding the feedback entirely, Jamie could actually be stifling her coworkers’ progress.
The first step is helping Jamie to recognize the difference between need and want. While Jamie may want her team members to always approve of her, this is not something that she needs to be successful in her position- and there is a very small chance that she will always be liked. A sign of a successful leader is someone who is able to manage challenging situations, which sometimes requires making difficult decisions that some people aren’t going to be happy about. Rather than continuing to rehearse her belief that, “I need my team to like me if we are going to continue to work well together” it would be more helpful for Jamie to realize that, “As much as I want my team to like me and to approve of my decisions, I don’t need their approval 100% of the time to do my job well. This way of thinking is actually getting in the way of my effectively leading the team and helping us work well together!” Once Jamie can feel less anxious about the meeting, she will be able to spend her time more productively. For example, she can think about ways to deliver the feedback in an effective manner that motivates and encourages her team.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to get along with and to be liked by the people that we work with (it definitely makes work more fun); however, problems arise when we demand that everything we do needs to be approved of by everyone. At the end of the day, we are responsible for our emotional reactions and we can’t control the reactions of others. Even if Jamie continues to avoid these progress meetings, there will come a day when someone disapproves of a decision that she makes- that’s the reality of life. What is within Jamie’s control is her ability to change her thinking, reduce her anxiety, and communicate as effectively as possible. By thinking more realistically about her workplace relationships, Jamie will be better able to navigate these situations (even if a meeting goes badly), and will also be able to focus more on what's best for the team, rather than on her approval rating.
Check back here next week for more tips about coping with challenging bosses, navigating coworker drama, and positioning yourself for success.