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The power of agency

We’ve all found ourselves in situations where it seems apparent that something we have done–or failed to do–has caused a problem.

Most of us work in collaborative environments where we are part of a process that creates value and offers it to the market.

The very nature of process means that each stage of the work is predicated on earlier work being done well and on time.

Life in the modern workplace–full of trade-offs as it is–is also such that colleagues will periodically disrupt the process.

When this happens, there’s a choice to be made. The choice is how you’re going to react to it. And it’s important here that we remind ourselves that we have agency over our reactions–we can control them.

It might take some time.

It might mean a walk and a talk with ourselves.

Either way, in the end we can have the power to choose what we will do with this obstacle.

Defensiveness wastes time and energy

Many of us, myself included, find ourselves easily jumping to defensiveness. It’s not my fault. I did my part. That’s your problem.

While these sorts of reactions are readily understandable and possibly even justified, they are not helpful.

When we become defensive we give away our agency. It’s as though, in an instant, the our challenging situation becomes one to which there is only one possible outcome and that outcome is bad.

In defensiveness we waste time and energy in attempting to remove culpability from ourselves.

We treat a conversation or meeting as a referendum on our worth in the world and our value to the company–it’s not the right place for that sort of conversation.

As Seth Godin puts it, “Make mistakes, own them, fix them, share the learning.”

Default to can-do and can-learn

Challenges are a laboratory that offer us the chance to learn some valuable lessons about ourselves, our colleagues, our processes, and our values.

Most of the time it is difficult to learn these lessons in ways other than challenge or even failure. Don’t squander it.

In the midst of challenges I want to default to can-do and can-learn. I want my first response to be “if there’s a way to make this work we’ll find it.”

I don’t want to overpromise. There might not be a way to make this work and if that’s the case, such is life. However, I’m not going to give myself an out to give 66% to solving the problem.

Similarly, I want to have a can-learn attitude. I want to be able to say, “here are the factors that contributed to this outcome and here’s what we can change to lessen the chance of having the same outcome again.”

I don’t want to waste a challenge. Don’t you, either.