I’m a competitive person by nature – everyone would tell you so. I’ve had jobs that give me bonuses based on how well I do compared to others, how well the company does in the market, and how ‘hard’ I work, so to say, based on some arbitrary metrics. I hadn’t thought about bonuses as being demotivating before because I like to compete (and win). In some of my experience they have driven behaviors of lower collaboration and higher negative competition where the only winner is the company itself and not the individual employee doing the work (and the company can only win in that situation for so long before people get frustrated and either leave or stop trying). Doesn’t sound like the ideal situation.
Most people have seen the statistic where a man will apply for a job he meets 6/10 qualifications for and the woman won’t unless she meets 10/10 (states HBR, Confidence Code, Lean In…). This is centered in a lot of bias, imposter syndrome, and also business norms and these are all hurting not just the job prospects of someone applying but also the success of the person who actually gets hired (Natalie speculation here…)
I’ve been accused of being a narcissist before. Not in those exact words, but I will never forget the conversation. I was 25 and a good friend of mine and I were talking. She finally said (in a rare pause of my banter), “Natalie, you always talk about you and never ask about me.” Wow, that one hit hard and I felt guilty and ashamed. I had never thought about it before. I wondered where my baby-boomer parents had gone wrong in raising me as a millennial snowflake (who was nothing but extraordinary) who didn’t know the true definition of meaningful discourse. Ever since then, I’ve put a concerted effort into making sure that I ask the other person I’m talking to questions about themselves. It’s a constant reminder in my awkward conversational brain – “ask them about their day, weekend, year…yeah—that’s perfect!” We often run into a narcissism problem in product development, too, and it can stem from fear and shame.
In the wake of multiple tragedies in the world, where there seems to be no end in sight, I wanted to take a moment and address the lack of safety we’re likely all feeling. Personally, I feel like I cannot safely travel anywhere (which is an issue because I travel every week for work). There are dispassionate psychopaths around every corner, dictators fulfilling their own agendas through fear mongering, and hate trying to win. And while the lack of safety is terrifying, somehow we slowly become numb to it. It’s not that we don’t care but we’re no longer surprised. It becomes normal – not “OMG how did that happen?!” but “oh, that sucks…” It seems that the workplace is hardly a safe haven from these episodes either, for the workplace can all to often be unsafe.
“It was the perfect storm.” “That’s just the way things are here.” “That won’t work for us; we’re too different.” “It’s a catch-22.” “There’s too much history.” If you are hearing these phrases at your organization, chances are it may be suffering from learned helplessness. What is learned helplessness you ask? It’s basically when we have difficulty both identifying and unlearning bad habits. We can no longer see anything as an opportunity for change. We come up with reasons for why something can’t or isn’t working instead of coming up with ways it could work. We (sometimes) unknowingly derail any true progress because of the intrinsic helplessness we feel after being shut down so many times. We just cannot see a way out of this vicious spiral.