Let’s start with a couple of hypothetical scenarios.
- You have just been given a large project at work. You are excited at the level of responsibility you have been given and the opportunity to show your manager and colleagues what you can really do. As you begin to dig into the work, you discover just how much you are taking on. Overwhelmed at the possibility of failure, you begin to wonder – did your manager give you this project because they trust you to get the job done, or are they setting you up to fail?
- You’ve been asked to lead a change in your department. Try as you might, you can’t seem to get traction. You begin to feel trapped between direct reports who are resistant to your efforts and managers who expect change to come swiftly and seamlessly. What do you do?
Whether you feel like you are being sabotaged in the workplace or you are questioning the authenticity of your managers’ requests, it is important to realize that everyone experiences a certain amount of workplace paranoia from time to time. Today’s competitive economy seems to breed workplaces where managers and employees alike are feeling more pressure than ever to perform at a maximum level, 100 percent of the time.
In reality, our feelings of uncertainty are driving our perceptions of our workplace relationships rather than reality. As a result, the way we handle the situation is likely based on our perception rather than reality as well.
Let’s take these two scenarios and examine what might really be going on.
Perception: Your manager has placed you in charge of a large project. Overwhelmed by the vastness of what you are being asked to do, you wonder if they are setting you up to fail. Feeling defeated and abandoned, you likely react in one of two ways. Either you attempt to buckle down and do your job, but find yourself on edge or miserable. Or you admit defeat, update your resume, and chalk your experience up to your terrible manager.
Reality: Your manager is terrible at reading your mind. Chances are, they have no idea that you are feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about your ability to complete the project or lead the team or do the task. Fortunately, most managers do not want to set their teams up for failure but instead are happy to mentor their employees during particularly difficult projects or transitions. Rather than trying to go it alone or giving up, bring your concerns to them and ask for help regarding next steps.
Perception: As a change agent in your organization, you are caught between employees who are resistant to your ideas and bosses who expect huge changes in a short amount of time. You begin to wonder if you will be able to keep your job or if you will become the latest casualty of the organization.
Reality: If you are undergoing organizational change, chances are your manager is too. It is entirely likely that they’re feeling unsupported by their managers while experiencing resistance from their subordinates. Without realizing it, managers can pass on their own feelings of corporate paranoia, especially during large scale change. Rather than assuming your manager is asking you to do the impossible while leaving you to manage your department’s change on your own, discuss how you can strategically support one another.
If you are still uncertain as to whether your boss has your back, schedule an opportunity to informally discuss your specific situation with them. Go for coffee, ask if they are happy with how your team is functioning. Ask for feedback on whether you should be doing things differently over a casual lunch. Regardless of the setting, be sure you own your perceptions for what they are – your interpretation of the situation. Begin the discussion by asking for clarification, rather than confronting your manager with what you perceive as reality. Not only does this open the lines of communication, it helps you both understand how your personal bias has affected your situation.
You may be surprised to find out that they had your back all along.