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You're Not So Important - Why Our Ego Drives Anxiety in the Workspace

Published 7/15/2019

Much of our careers are based on relationships and shaped by the decisions we make with the people around us. It makes sense, that if we're shaping our careers with the people around us that we care what those people think.

In today's episode, we're talking about making better decisions with the opinions of the people around you.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
How do you feel about your career? Much of our careers, perhaps even all of them, are based on relationships. The relationships that we have with other people and the decisions that other people make around us. We can affect our careers only so much without cooperating with those other people. And so it makes sense that we care a lot and we think a lot about what other people think. And while we are thinking about what other people think about us, we often process what we see and what we experience through a pretty distorted lens. And this lens is built throughout our early lives and we carry it with us throughout the rest of our lives. And it's easy for this distortion to cause us to make poor decisions about how to deal with those people that we care so deeply about working with. That's what we're talking about in today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea and my goal on this show is to help driven developers find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Let's start out with a simple story to kind of outline this distortion. Let's imagine you go shopping for some clothes and you're walking through the aisles and you pick out a handful of shirts, maybe some shoes, you go try them on. And so you're trying them on, you're sorting through the ones that you like, maybe making cuts based on budget on price or even simply on your own taste. You make your final selections, you walk to the front, you buy the clothes and you walk out. Now this is a simple decision process and if we were to look back at the way you made those decisions, you'd probably explain your decisions kind of the way that I just explained them. You compare them, you liked that one over the other one, this one fit better, maybe this one is more appropriate for some occasion in the future. What you probably wouldn't do is talk about how much you hated one particular shirt or one pair of shoes that you tried on but decided not to get. Your goal in going shopping in the first place wasn't to find something to hate and this seems totally reasonable when we're thinking about clothes. But when we're talking about humans and more specifically when we are the ones who are affected by the decisions of others, we don't really apply the same kind of reasoning. If you've ever had a performance review at work, then you've probably felt the pain and anxiety that's ultimately kind of inevitable with this unknown, really important moment in your career. This is especially true if you've received negative feedback about your performance leading up to that. So in our minds, we convince ourselves that the person who is giving us that performance review, the person who is managing us, giving us their decision that we are on their minds all the time. That they are scrutinizing every little action that we take and that they're trying to make an accurate judgment about us. But the truth is most of the feedback that you get, most of the decisions that are made around your career, including things like rejection letters that you get after applying for a job, and even the feedback that you get that is actually given directly to you about your performance, most of these things are not about judging you. And this is the distortion that we have. Now, we're going to talk about why we have that distortion. And then later on in the episode, we're going to talk a little bit about how we can address this and think differently about these judgments and all of these decisions that are made that affect us. But first, let's talk about the distortion and the way that we see other people's judgments. If you went to an average grade school, you very regularly received judgment on your performance. And that judgment had a direct effect on your grades and perhaps on your advancement in school as well. For the most part, the teacher who is grading the paper probably didn't have much of a consequence. If you got a C or a B or an A, all of those were probably fairly similar. Now there's some caveats here. Of course, if everybody is failing a particular teacher's class, then there's likely some kind of consequence. There's certainly guidelines around the performance that a school has. But for the most part, as we're growing up, our grades are a direct reflection on our performance. But as we move into our careers, our performance is not so clean cut. The judgment on our performance when we are at work does impact the people that we work with. There are more motivations than simply passing an accurate judgment. And usually those motivations are more important to the person who is passing that judgment. A manager is not incentivized by finding out exactly how productive someone is, but instead they are incentivized to help make someone more productive than they already are. And so when a manager is identifying with you and issue with performance, the story that you tell yourself, the perceived picture, the distorted lens version of what's happening is very similar to receiving a failing grade. We believe that our feedback is a direct reflection on our worth and this completely misses that the person who is giving you this feedback has motivations of their own. We're going to talk about how to understand those motivations better and disconnect yourself from that kind of ego-driven perspective of other people's decisions right after we talk about today's sponsor, Git Prime. Speaking of managers and feedback, great managers understand how to debug problems. And those problems can be encoded, but they can also be in their teams. Managers are looking for ways to improve their teams by finding and fixing systemic issues that are occurring on those teams. How do you find systemic issues? Git Prime has written a book that they are going to give you for free. There's a digital version and if you go through our special link, you're going to get a printed version of this book. And the book outlines 20 patterns that great managers are looking for in engineering teams. Some of these patterns are not very intuitive, for example, having a hero on your team. It may look like you're shipping a lot of code together, but ultimately a lot of the information is trapped up in one person's head, which can be really dangerous in terms of risk if that person decides to, for example, leave the company. But it can also cause a lot of uncertainty for other team members. These are the kinds of patterns that great managers know how to identify. And if you read the book, you can start learning about these patterns as well. Go and check it out. Git Prime.com slash 20 patterns. That's Git Prime, git Prime.com slash the numbers 20 patterns. Thanks so much to Git Prime for sponsoring today's episode. So we know that other people are making decisions all of the time and that usually other people are making decisions based on their own interests. So your manager, when they are providing you feedback, they have some incentive to provide you with that feedback. Something about the feedback they are giving you is important to them, not just in judging you because that's not really something that they are incentivized by, but rather some other end goal. And it's your responsibility to understand what that goal is and then to focus relentlessly on that. Now, it's very interesting what happens when we receive this kind of negative feedback, when we have a decision that is made that affects us. It's easy for us to focus even harder on our perspective because this can cause a high amount of anxiety and then we hyper focus on the thing that we think will fix the problem. And usually this causes bad patterns. For example, if you are given feedback that your performance is lower, that you're not shipping as quickly as other people on the team, your initial reaction may be to stay up late, to work extra long hours and you may not actually fix the underlying problem. This is only sustainable for a short period of time and you may kind of put a band-aid on the issue, but your manager's goals are probably less about the volume of work that you do and more about you finding ways to get unblocked. If you can identify this early, then you can learn to align your solutions to your manager's incentive. And it's not just managers, by the way. We have a lot of feedback coming at us from all directions. Understanding the true motivation of the feedback rather than just what the feedback says at face value, we can kind of remove that distorted cognitive lens and see things from the other person's perspective. So much about our careers is about finding ways to understand other people's motivations. And this is especially true for decisions that affect us because those decisions are kind of the short circuit to our ego. When we have other people making decisions about us, we immediately retreat into that ego-driven perspective that distorted lens. And so it's extra important that we try to dig and find the motivation of the person that's giving us that feedback of the person making those decisions. Did you get a rejection letter? Well, perhaps the reason you got the rejection letter has very little to do with your qualifications. It may have everything to do with the person who is making those decisions being risk averse. So if you understand that the motivation of that hiring manager is to be risk averse, then in subsequent conversations, either with the same manager, the hiring manager, or in future applications at other places, you can start to understand what are the risks that you need to address earlier on. These are the ways that you make better decisions when you're given feedback. Try to understand the motivation of the feedback rather than just taking it at face value. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to Get Prime for sponsoring today's episode. You can learn more about your team by understanding the patterns that are present in the work they are doing. Head over to Get Prime.com slash 20 patterns. That's git prime dot com slash two zero patterns. They're going to send you a free printed version of this book and you'll also get a digital version. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. If you enjoyed today's episode, I encourage you, whatever podcasting app you're currently using, go ahead and subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes of the show. Today's episode was produced by Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.