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I went for a swim this morning and was struck by a great analogy for workplace mentality and behavior. A lady, let’s call her Susan, was happily swimming her laps until another lady, Jane, entered the lane, and as she swam, she splashed. Susan became noticeably annoyed by this and the fact that she had to keep stopping because Jane was swimming at a much slower pace. Susan could have easily moved into another lane to continue her swim but instead, she chose to suffer, become a slave to her negative emotions and blame Jane.

We see this kind of behavior in the workplace all the time when things don’t go our way; we whine, complain, become engaged in negative conversations and blame others instead of seeking solutions and focusing on what we can do to change the situation.

It brings to mind the concept of the ‘Circle of influence/Circle of concern’ from Stephen Covey. If we stay in the circle of influence, we focus on what we can do, where we can make a difference, how we can alter the situation for the better. In the circle of concern we moan about the situation, focus on why we can’t change it and emphasise our helplessness. The model suggests that the more time we spend in the circle of influence, the bigger it becomes and the more powerful and in control we feel and can thus be more productive. The same can be said for the circle of concern – the more time we spend there, the more our situation is compounded and we experience powerlessness, negative feeling and this feeds into our sense of despondency. It does not keep us motivated and productive.

Let’s take an example, my husband was dealing with 2 supply managers; one demonstrated a stubborn, negative and belligerent attitude saying they couldn’t meet the targets, standards and deadlines set by the company because they didn’t have enough people, resources or processes in place for quality control. He was very much in the circle of concern. The other supplier, tasked with the same targets, standards and deadlines searched for creative solutions around the issues like borrowing people from other departments, incentivising performance, working closely with the company to truly understand their needs, even going to the trouble of re-calibrating and making new tooling machines so they could deliver on time and to budget. He was more effective because he was living in the circle of influence. Who would you rather work with?

It all comes down to mindset and focus. If we can identify and share strategies for staying in the circle of influence more of the time, the benefits to the individual, team and organisation will be immense. So what can you do on a daily basis?

  • Be aware of your current state of mind and which circle you’re inhabiting
  • Focus on the positive and employ learned optimism to re-frame situations constructively
  • Change from the inside out – Concentrate on being more…creative, cooperative, proactive etc
  • Listen to your language – try to use less ‘can’t’ and more ‘can’s’
  • Acknowledge mistakes and devise solutions
  • Be a warrior, not a victim. Be an inspiration, not a critic

happy face