I starting thinking the other day about my work as a media consultant for non-profit and religious organizations. At Cooke Media Group, we have some wonderful clients, who are genuinely attempting to do great things in the media, and we’re thrilled to be part of their team. But as I look over my career, I realize now that I’ve spent at least 35-40% of my time at many organizations negotiating the minefields of overly sensitive people. I’m talking about people who are insecure – people who get their feelings hurt at the drop of a hat, or think every suggestion or change in a project is a personal criticism of them or their past decisions.
You probably have had the same experience, no matter what field you happen to work. I often think that if I could just go into an organization and cut right to the chase – look at a project, examine what’s right or wrong, discuss the options, kick around ideas, fix the problems, tweak the rest, and create something great – that would be wonderful. But nearly half my time is spent dancing around the touchy sensibilities of extremely delicate people.
Understand that I’m not talking about normal people here. I’m all for encouragement, inspiration, praise, and people skills. We all need to be thanked, applauded, and treated well. But insecure people need far more attention than that. In fact, they’re often so high maintenance, they wear everyone around them out.
Everyone’s a little different, but here are some of their traits:
• They can’t stand to see someone else get credit.
• They have to be in charge of the process. Control is a huge issue.
• They aren’t interested in other people’s opinions or ideas.
• They take any criticism or suggestions as a personal attack.
• They come off as bullies.
• They explode at the drop of a hat. Often, like alcoholics, they apologize profusely later, but the damage is already done.
• They have a million reasons why your idea will never work.
These people spend enormous time covering their backsides in fear. I know one that tries to keep employees from talking to each other because he fears they’ll be talking about him. Another is costing his organization hundreds of thousands of dollars because he refuses to listen to his subordinate’s ideas. Others who refuse to allow change to happen and are stuck in the 1980’s.
I’m convinced they know who they are, because for these tormented men and women, it’s a way of life. Always living in fear of being found out (as if we didn’t know), looking over their shoulder, spending enormous effort to be perceived as “in charge,” and more.
So if you’re insecure, remember:
1) You’re not hiding anything. Everyone in your office already knows.
2) Your probably costing your organization enormous amounts of money because you refuse to listen to alternatives or try new ideas.
3) You’re alienating your most talented people by your dismissive and sometimes explosive behavior.
4) And you’re wearing yourself out with fear.
Instead try this:
Admit to your employees and co-workers that there are areas in which you’re not an expert, and ask for their help. Truly listen to their ideas and give them a shot. The downside you fear will happen (losing respect) isn’t an issue because that’s already happened. And the upside? You’re still the boss, and if their ideas work, you’ll be the genius that led your team to success.
What have you got to lose?