Last year I discovered The School of Life, an organization devoted to emotional intelligence and helping people live their most fulfilled lives in relationships, careers and personal growth areas.
In a recent article about increasing happiness and finding the “calm” in any situation, the case was made that in romantic relationships, we focus most on resolving large conflicts (disagreements on things like politics, career, finances, children, etc.). In contrast, we often neglect tending to the small stuff (what time to go to bed, who takes out the trash, crumbs left on butter knives, the right way to cook a chicken). Society encourages us to tackle the big issues, but to let the small ones go.
How the little things add up at work
When the seeds of small slights and disagreements take hold, that’s when anxiety and resentment and discomfort can grow. There isn’t much written about how we deal with the mundane parts of our life. And we don’t place much importance on them, so we don’t develop good techniques to address them.
“In calmer lives, points of conflict and stress in domestic existence should be taken very seriously. They should have high prestige, in recognition of their complexity and role in the success of love. We should aim for increased patience, making upset reasonable, and making disagreement legitimate.” Calm, The School of Life
As a business owner, this got me thinking. How does this theory apply in a work environment? Are my work relationships suffering from a similar tendency to disregard the little things?
In the past, when I’ve had occasional conflicts with co-workers over minor issues, I was told things like, “You’re too in the weeds. Think of the big picture!” or “Right, but the real issue is x.” And that didn’t feel great.
In thinking more about it, I realize I was doing the very same to others. I often brushed off what seemed minor to move quickly to what I perceived was the bigger thing—the upcoming meeting, deliverable, report, deck, conversation, presentation. And upon reflection, that disregard of small grievances (whether mine or someone else’s) left me feeling belittled, separate, defensive, and distracted (not good things for a workplace).
So how do we start to pay attention to these things without over course correcting and becoming obsessed with the details? How do we find balance here?
Three steps to tackling the small stuff
The first step is listening. Not the kind of listening where you’re crafting a clever response in your head while the other person is talking. But really listening, and actively trying to understand where the person you are talking to is coming from. And more to the point, what matters to this person in the exchange. What are they after? What do they need? How can you help them?
At the end of a long day, we’re so focused on getting home, what we’re having for dinner, and how to take care of our family needs, that we usually spend little (to no) time reflecting on how things went that day. Spending 10 minutes at the end of each day journaling or meditating on some of the smaller moments, and thinking about what worked and didn’t, could help us slow down and notice opportunities that present themselves the next day.
We are going to get upset with each other over small things, but sometimes we walk away crafting a version of the story in our heads that isn’t really true. So we kind of miss the opportunity for a lesson and personal growth. One way to better understand where people are coming from is to ask questions. Without judgment.
So next time you feel the discomfort creeping in, pause and notice what small issues you may have disregarded that are now piling up. Make it your regular job to do this gut check. These intuitions will matter to you and to your business.
To learn more about how harnessing introspection in the workplace, read Jute’s blog The Power of Observation.