Thinking About Work: It’s Another One of Your Life Relationships

I was having lunch with a friend who was telling me about a previous lunch date that hadn’t been nearly as enjoyable.

During that lunch, my friend (let’s call her Courtney) had gotten dressed down by the head of a consulting agency and his newly appointed right hand.

Courtney had just finished a long-term assignment, and by all measures, had done a bang-up job. While she hadn’t been asked to remain with the company to fulfill the full-time, regular position available (the client had offered the job to another HR pro from the agency), Courtney’s work had received numerous compliments by the client during the assignment.

Unfair and unwarranted criticism

However, there were a few things the consulting agency chief wanted my friend to know, none of which had been mentioned while the assignment had been ongoing, and none of which had anything to do with the actual work she had performed.

Now, no one likes criticism, but Courtney’s a big girl and she can take ownership of her mistakes. However, she was bothered that the agency head had invited her to lunch, giving her the impression that he wanted to discuss their (rosy) future, and then had basically sat by while his right-hand person heaped coals on Courtney’s head.

When it was all said and done, Courtney had been given the very strong impression that this agency would be thinking long and hard about assigning any future work to her, which not only caused her to question the point of the meeting in the first place, but also left her feeling betrayed, humiliated, and angry.

So she asked me, “What should I do? I need to work, but I’m not sure I can make this right. Another consultant from the agency told me I should just call and apologize.”

How would you deal with a bad date?

And I said, “Hmmm … Suppose this agency head were a guy you were dating? Suppose he invited you out for a ‘nice dinner with a good friend,’ and then when you got to the restaurant he spent the entire evening encouraging his friend to berate you while he watched and grinned? Would you want to continue dating this guy, or would you be more inclined to kick his ass to the curb?”

My friend stared at me for a moment.

“Oh hell,” I thought. “Please tell me you’d want to kick his ass to the curb, or we’ve got bigger issues than I realized.”

Haltingly, my friend replied “I’d want to dump him.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, “OK then. You know what you want to do. Everything else is a rationalization of why you shouldn’t do it.”

How did I get to be so smart?

Um, I’m not. I just hang around with smart people. Like Helen Richardson, Ed.D, career counselor, coach, and creator of the A New Way to Think About Work coaching model.

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Yes, work is a relationship

The premise of her model is that work is life energy, work is meaning and purpose, work is a relationship, and work is personal and professional. Using this premise as a foundation, individuals dissatisfied with their relationship to their work are guided through a series of actions that help them to take stock of what they’re feeling, why they’re feeling it, and what they can do about it. And, since we can’t change other people, only ourselves, the model encourages a holistic “from the inside out” approach.

When Helen first told me about the model, I was skeptical. One mention of the words “life energy” and I got visions of surf boards, California sun, crystals, and well, you get the picture — all kinds of things a little scary to this city girl.

“Helen, eh, this is too New Age-y for me. Sorry.”

It’s not New Age, Crystal.

“Eh……”

Why workplace issues get under your skin

But over time, the model grew on me, and of late I’ve found myself referring to it unexpectedly, like with my friend Courtney (who, by the way, found someone nice to work with and is doing fine).

And I’ve found the model to be especially helpful in promoting understanding about why workplace troubles can get under our skin so badly.

Helen says:

It’s only natural that when we put lots of our time and energy into something and it doesn’t work out to feel a sort of rejection and even hurt. Because it’s ‘just work,’ we’re told it shouldn’t matter that much. But it does.”

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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