blogging about DIRECT LEADERSHIP

How getting our buttons pushed gets in our way

with one comment

Yesterday I had an incident with a person I would really like to work with. Someone who is intelligent, passionate and knowledgeable about the same things, which I get passionate about. He is also a bit younger than me, which is another quality, because I enjoy and need a younger perspective on the work I do.

However, in past exchanges his buttons were pushed and yesterday, so were mine, and what might have been a fruitful collaboration is now at an impasse.

One way of dealing with this is of course to shrug our shoulders and move on. His fault-his loss (or from his perspective her fault-her loss).

Another way is to find a label to put on the person or behaviour, which bothers us. In our case we’ve already been down that road. I’ve been called stubborn and my choices have been called irresponsible. And, I have been told that this and that other person agreed with his view of me (which was when MY buttons got pushed). From my side, I haven’t spoken it out loud, but in my mind and in conversations, with the people close to me, I have tried to diminish the insult that I feel by labelling him ‘a young dominant male desiring to dominate older female’.

Yet another and better way, however, is to remember that when somebody pushes my buttons, it is because I have those particular buttons. They are MY buttons. Consequently the way forward and out of the blame game is to identify what’s going on in me, e.g. what kind of history do I have, which makes me overreact, etc. Then, and only then, can I make a conscious choice of whether I will hang on to the garbage or connect with the real person.

The garbage metaphor was one I learned a few years ago, when my colleague and friend Ane Araujo from Marcondes in Sao Paulo put a quote in her book about coaching.

”Serving is about knowing who the other person is and being able to give space to their garbage.

What most people do is to give space to people’s quality and deal with their garbage. Actually you should do it the other way around. Deal with who they are and give space to their garbage.  Keep interacting with them as if they were God. And every time you get garbage from them, give space to their garbage and go back and interact with them as if they were God.”                                                                      (Werner Erhard)

Time will show if this friend and I will succeed in pulling ourselves out of the attachment to each other’s garbage.

However, let me now zoom in on why I find this incident and these musings relevant for everyday leadership.

Everyday leadership is about interacting with others on a daily basis. Whenever my radar has caught a leadership opportunity and I have chosen which of the three action styles I want to apply – Initiator, Coach or Referee  – the ability to connect with people is crucial.

Just like in my incident above, if any of us want to be successful in our interactions at work, we need to interact with people based on their qualities instead of their garbage.  This only applies even stronger if I am leader, because I also need to set the tone and maintain this attitude among my staff.


Written by Karin Zastrow

April 8, 2011 at 07:35

Posted in Misc

One Response

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  1. Karin,

    Great post! One thing I’ve been fairly successful at doing is actually ignoring the garbage that others bring into the equation, because in the end, most of it is irrelevant to the situation at hand. I have one question about your conflict though, did each of you know what the buttons were? If so, then there really is an impasse with them not CARING that you have problems with what they’re doing. If not, I’d say that perhaps the first step (once you have taken some time to calm down, obviously) is to lay down exactly why you were so offended by his action.

    Understanding where others are coming from is as important as them understanding where YOU are coming from. Perhaps there’s a way to bypass the issue altogether? Just a thought, but I agree that we need to move beyond others’ garbage and find common ground.


    Christian Fey

    April 9, 2011 at 00:03

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