Feeling powerless at work?

Jesse worked in a department where her ideas were said to be “welcomed” but then were either not considered, shot down, or, worse, used without giving her credit. She tried offering more and different ideas, talking with coworkers who confirmed her feelings (but didn’t offer much help), and reaching out to HR who said they were unable to intervene. 

When it feels like nothing we’re trying is working, frustration can lead us to give up—leaving us truly powerless. 

As her coach I explored with Jesse (a pseudonym) what her choices were. At first, she said she didn’t have any. She needed the job and her boss had no intention of leaving, so she was stuck.

When I’m feeling powerless, I try to remember Viktor Frankl’s quote: “Everything you have in life can be taken from you except one thing—your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation” ...especially powerful because Frankl survived the Holocaust.

As we explored the situation, Jesse was able (reluctantly at first) to arrive at a number of different options to potentially improve her circumstances. 

Rather sarcastically she suggested she could just stop offering ideas. This was less than ideal as Jesse is a creative person who likes to contribute, but it would have the benefit of eliminating disappointment and frustration when her ideas were trampled on or taken without recognition. 

She considered how she brought up ideas and if there were other ways to position her proposals, to strengthen her “case”, or take personal credit for her creativity. 

She then decided she could polish her resume and start looking for other positions. She could even consider an entirely different career. Perhaps she could meet with a career counselor, explore transferable skills, or look into additional training? In fact, she could also keep an eye out for a different job within the company.

Finally, Jesse thought about confronting her boss and talking with him about her frustration. Maybe she could talk with him one-on-one? Or, band together with team members to suggest changes? Or, maybe it would be better to put her concerns in writing? She knew any of these options would require planning and practice to prepare for how her boss might react and how she could respond in order to have the highest likelihood for success. 

Once Jesse recognized the only thing she had power over was her own response to the situation, she was able to use her creative abilities to come up with numerous options. As her choices grew, she began to consider a different future—one where she could draw on her strengths as the creative person she is. She knew not all of the options were ideal and any choice she made would take work on her part, but she was now motivated to take those steps.

Bobbie L. Dillon, MS, is a Conflict Management Specialist who works with individuals and organizations to help them use effective communication and constructive conflict to reach their goals. Learn more at BobbieDillon.com

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