The unpopular person is not a role most of us are comfortable with but it’s a role almost all of us are thrust into at one point or another in our lives.
My little ones don’t like going to sleep. Going to bed? Fine. Happy as Larry. But the sleep part? Not so popular…
We can often have 2 kids egging each other on, and refusing to get some shut-eye, 2 hours after putting them to bed! For all the reasons we parents understand, it’s not OK that they do this. As a dad, it’s my job to sort it out.
Various strategies have not worked. I have appealed to their consciences (OK, stop laughing). I have appealed to their sense of responsibility. I have withheld treats and goodies. I have appealed to their emotions. Nothing works. I have even got them up an hour earlier in the morning so they can be really tired and realize they should have got to bed earlier … (call me a short-sighted masochist)
So eventually I threatened to remove all the light-bulbs in their room, so that they could not run around after bed-time. This caused banshee wails of “You’re HORRIBLE, daddy” and tearful recriminations of “If we are scared, how will we be able to come for help if we can’t see where we are going?”
So I relented. But they did. And again. So eventually it was time to follow through on my threat. And I felt so horrible! I felt like I was betraying their trust, pushing them into a fearful situation. The night I did it I felt so ugly and unkind. But staying true to our words is vital… so I did it.
“The unpopular person”
It’s not a role most of us are comfortable with.
It’s a role almost all of us are thrust into by both parenthood, and also very often as a leader/manager in the work environment. I have often been in this position as a Human Resources Manager. When it first happened, my default setting was, of course, to try and avoid being unpopular. Who wants to be unpopular, anyway?
But I quickly realized that that is part of the package, and that the onus was on me to be ready for those moments.
It is important to be prepared in advance. Many of us are (in some small way) guided by perceptions, and this can be a potential weakness. The fact that our roles often require us to be in a position where others can choose to dislike us, creates tension for us; and this can quickly lead to a tendency to avoid those decisions and situations. That in turn compromises our ability to do well, what is required of us.
So how do we get prepared for these awkward situations and become accustomed, even if never comfortable, with being disliked or unpopular? A couple of ideas:
- Have a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve.
- Own our responsibility to be the one getting that done.
- Be able to communicate the goal – firstly to yourself, but then to everyone else. It’s good to remember Einstein’s words: “If you can’t explain it clearly to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself”
- Take the time to appreciate how the news probably looks and feels to the receiver
- At the very least, WE must be comfortable internally that there is a coherent and meaningful link between what we want eventually and why we are doing this, now!
- Talk it through at the receiver’s level. If talking to kids, get down to their eye level and choose the right body language.
The fact is we are not trying to be popular. We are trying to get something important done, without unnecessary unkindness and fall-out. But we need to stick to the task at hand. Being unpopular is just a very small – and very temporary – part of a very fulfilling role, for both parents and managers.
(One week on, no-one even asks about the light bulbs any more)
This post originally appeared at Notes From the Road