Is patience a virtue at work?
Or perhaps the question should be, how impatient are you? When you watch a colleague or team member carry out a task, do you get frustrated by their slowness, think that you know a better way to do it? Do you curse under your breath when waiting in the supermarket queue or waiting for someone in the car in front to pull out at a T junction.
Many years ago, I bought M J Ryan's great little book, ‘The Power of Patience' for my dad. Then, on flipping through it, before giving it to him, I discovered that actually I needed it, and so I kept it for myself.
On a scale of 0 (patient) to 10 (super-patient), how patient are you?
‘A mind that is fast is sick. A mind that is slow is sound. A mind that is still is divine.'
Observing clients and myself, here are some of the problems that can play out when we are impatient at work:
- We don't give people time to develop their confidence and competence at tasks, disrupting their learning, even taking away tasks from them, when all they need is time to practice, get more proficient and therefore faster!!
- We stop listening to people in meetings because our mind is rushing onto the next task, which undermines working relationships, and hinders effective team working, problem solving and decision making.
- We can give up on colleagues who are different from us, who have different ways of seeing the world and doing things.
- We fail to give new initiatives, ideas, projects, or processes time to work, to settle in, for the issues to be ironed out, and for them to be fully operational, before we move onto the next idea.
What negative effects of impatience have you witnessed at work? How has it impacted you out of work, with your family and friends?
‘Never discourage anyone ... who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.'
It does seem that some people are more patient than others, and this is likely to be a mixture of nature and nurture. One part of Transactional Analysis (TA) deals with drivers of our behaviour, which I wrote about in March 2007 - see this newsletter by clicking here for a full explanation of the different TA drivers. One of those drivers is the ‘Hurry Up' driver, which I know I have. This can lead to serious impatience around people doing tasks slowly. We think we could do it faster ourselves. But the fact is that they probably need coaching and time to develop the skills to do it faster, if not quite as fast as us!!
‘Take time for all things: great haste makes great waste.'
There is another aspect of personality, which can have a profound impact on how we deal with conflict at work (and out of work as well). In the personality instrument, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator), there is one dimension, Thinking – Feeling, which has many different facets to it, one of which is about how people react to conflict, which has had a profound impact on how I have dealt with conflict over the years. The descriptions below are about the extreme preferences for the two sides of the Thinking – Feeling dimensions, while most people tend to have less extreme preferences.
Thinking type preference - When it comes to conflict they tend to see it as just part of the natural order of things. They can see it as a healthy way of people airing their views. They even enjoy arguing for the sake of an argument even if they don't believe the stance they are taking. They can also often not understand why others can't just ‘get over it', when there has been a conflict, which they have dealt with and moved on from, while others are still smarting from the confrontation. This, for some Thinking Types, can lead to impatience with others.
Feeling type preference - When it comes to conflict Feeling Types generally like harmony and actively dislike any conflict. Having coached clients, and from my own experience as a Feeling Type, there can almost be a physical fear of any conflict. Where a Thinking Type person might come away from a discussion thinking, ‘that was great, we all got a chance to air our views', Feeling Type people might be thinking, ‘oh no, that was awful', and be bruised and battered for a week from the conflict. But their need for harmony can, at times, lead them to become impatient when they want to patch things up with others.
My experience with conflict situations in the past was to avoid them at all cost. Then I moved onto wanting to resolve them as soon as possible to avoid the feelings of discomfort I had around them. But I've now learned to be more patient, and am always reminded of a metaphor that a senior Buddhist leader used once about dealing with conflicts. He said if a dog came into the room right now and crapped on the carpet, what would you do? If you try and clear it up straight away when it is still wet it is likely to make more of a mess! If you are patient and wait for it to dry, it will be much easier to clear up. So my mantra is to, ‘wait for the shit to dry'! Wait for the situation to calm down, trust that things will work themselves out quite naturally, by me taking wise action. And time and again I have found that this works.
See September 2009 edition of Inspire, for more about understanding different personality types by clicking here.
Where are you on the Thinking – Feeling continuum? How do you react to conflict?
Ryan at the beginning of her book asks us to consider the following facts:
- Some McDonalds are promising lunch in ninety seconds or it's free.
- The average doctor visit now lasts eight minutes.
- Politicians currently take a mere 8.2 seconds to answer a question, regardless of the complexity of the topic.
- A popular, all-you-can-eat buffet in Toyko charges by the minute – the faster you eat, the cheaper it is!!
Our lives do seem to be speeding up, we can get impatient for a website to download, forgetting that a few years ago we had to wait for ‘dial up' connections for the internet. We wonder why we haven't had a response to the email we sent five minutes ago, when the person might be in a meeting or even choosing to deal with their emails later in the day. Which brings me to the culture in your workplace, or within your family or with your friends:
- Does your organisation have back to back meetings leaving no time for people to think between meetings, go to the toilet or actually get some work done?
- Do your colleagues expect instant responses to emails, regardless of what you are doing when you sent them?
- Do people brag about how long they work, how many evenings and weekends they work, how little sleep they get, how far they drive without stopping? These are all signs of a busy, impatient culture, which doesn't necessarily lead to an effective, efficient and successful one.
- Is your organisation expecting more output from less people? – which basically is every organisation out there – but speed isn't the answer to this dilemma. Working smarter, not harder, needs to be the mantra, finding smarter, better ways of doing things. In fact I am going to be working with a team in September doing just that, helping them to think through how they can do things more effectively and efficiently, drawing on what works well now and finding new ways of doing things.
What is the culture of your organisation? Is it helping or hindering smarter ways of working?
‘There is more to life than increasing its speed.'
- I know that when I am more patient I am a nicer person to be around, whether that is at work, in the supermarket queue or with my family and friends.
- Less haste and more time to smell the roses. Slowing down a bit, being more patient, lets you enjoy the journey of life more, instead of being wrapped up in a cloak of impatience.
- Which leads onto a more relaxing life and, as M J Ryan says in the sub-title of her book, ‘How to slow the rush and enjoy more happiness, success and peace of mind every day'.
- I think this is created by us changing the habit or even addiction of impatience, which leads us to always be thinking about the next thing, stopping us from enjoying now, being happy now.
- People can think that success is about getting on with things, getting things done. However, success is not down to being busy, it is about wise, effective action which leads to success.
- For managers, if they have the patience to coach their staff to develop their confidence and capability to solve problems, they will find that in the long run they have more time to do what they really need to do in their job, versus doing their team members' jobs as well!
What benefits are you likely to see if you were more patient?
I am going to draw on some of the points that Ryan makes in her book, ‘The Power of Patience', as they mirror what I do myself and encourage my clients to do:
- Tune into yourself in the morning – are you starting the day already impatient? Are you feeling pressured or stressed, which can lead to impatience later on?
- Learn your early warning signals – this might be changes in your body, tightened muscles, tightness in your chest. Or it might be certain messages going through your head, i.e. ‘Why don't they just …..', ‘Why can't they ….'. Or certain feelings or moods that you are experiencing. For more on managing your mood see my book Master Your Inner Critic by clicking here.
- Patience is a decision – when you make the decision to become more patient, you will start to become aware of the times when you become impatient, notice the triggers, and identify what you can do to change this.
- Keep your blood sugar up – when we are hungry, like a small child, we can get cranky. Eat fruit and nuts, rather than chocolate to do this.
I would also recommend meditation and if you are thinking, ‘I don't have time to meditate', see this great little cartoon to teach yourself a One Minute Meditation: click here.
‘Nothing is more effective than a deep, slow inhale and release for surrendering what you can't control and focussing again on what is right in front of you.'
- Coaching enables you to focus on what you want to change in your life, work and business. I take an ‘inside out' approach to changing behaviour and increasing performance. See below for more information about my free coaching audits.
- Talk to me about running a workshop for your team. This could be about effective team working, managing challenging interactions or how they manage their mood, motivation and performance.
- Read M J Ryan's book, ‘The Power of Patience'. A book which is easy to dip into for those who are too impatient to read though a big, dense book!!!
- Read my book, ‘Master Your Inner Critic', which has lots of techniques for managing your mood, mind and inner critic. See here for details.