When the emotional labor of addressing a dispute with a customer, a client, a co-worker, or a boss, is the work we don’t want to do, we revert to doing the work that makes us the most comfortable.
This is usually the task that we were hired to do in the first place.
A graphic designer, instead of confronting her client with what she knows about design, graphics, colors, and what is appealing to the human eye in practice, rather than in theory, will instead revert to the statement “Well, it’s what the client asked for.” And then do the bare minimum on the project.
A human services professional, instead of respectfully establishing boundaries with a client who has engaged in bad/poor behavior in the past, will allow that client to continue to run roughshod over him. He will revert to the statement “Well, I hope that the client changes this time.” And then he will do the maximum to ensure that the client follows the same rules and policies that didn’t change the client’s behavior before.
A factory worker, instead of confronting co-workers about shoddy work, or not showing up on time, will allow that co-worker to continue the behavior unabated. The worker will shrug her shoulders sagely and think “The boss should do something. After all, it’s not my problem.” And then the worker will start to come in a little bit later, and a little bit later, and a little bit later, until her arrival time matches that of her tardy co-worker.
A manager, instead of engaging in radical self-awareness work and self-confrontation about how they can improve as a leader and manager, will engage in radical “doubling-down” on driving the team forward to accomplish a seemingly unattainable goal. The manager will firmly think “That’s why they’re here. To work and get a paycheck. I have enough responsibilities without babysitting them as well.” And then the manager will make excuses as various members of the team quit, transfer to other parts of the organization, or gradually become “C” players, committed radically to performing just at the average.
The ironclad law of life is that we get more of what we subsidize and we get less of what we tax. When we subsidize laziness, disrespect, cynicism, disappointment, ignorance, appeals to “the rules,” or “the policies” we get more of the same types of behavioral responses in the organizations we seek to lead. When we tax emotional labor, self-awareness, leadership, insight, and open conversation, we get less of the behavioral responses that will raise up our organizations.
And yet, human intuition is to avoid, prevaricate, be selfish, be lazy and ultimately, to do the bare minimum at scale. This is the work—hidden behind the cover of our job/task descriptions—that we think we are hired to do, from founders and managers to employees and interns.
But, what if we’ve intuited the wrong thing?
What if the work that we should be subsidizing is the work that negates the effects of what we think is “natural” and “just the way that it is”?
What if we not only thought differently, but acted differently?