We’ve all been there … feeling stuck, and as if we don’t have a choice about something. Trapped and constrained, we either complain about our situation, or sadly accept our lot in life and get more and more discouraged.
But if you feel like you’re in a situation in which you don’t have a choice, we want you to think again. You always have a choice. Don’t believe us? Read on …
We’ve loved conducting a series of full-day workshops for a large organisation over the last couple of months.
This slide has been a part of that presentation, and has had a big response.
When we’ve told this to employees in various coaching situations over the last several years, some have interpreted this as confronting, and that being told this means they are not valuable to an organisation. That’s not the intention at all.
Others have found it a liberating statement, and taken it as permission to take control of their lives and be responsible for their choices. Now that’s more like it!
What this statement means to us is that we are always in control of making decisions to influence our circumstances. Sometimes the only choice we can make is our attitude to what life has thrown at us, but we still have a choice.
The powerful book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl illustrates this point powerfully. Frankl was a psychologist imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII.
Fascinated by the human survival instinct, he observed humans trying to survive the most horrific of circumstances.
Time and time again Frankl witnessed fellow prisoners giving up on life and losing their will to live, and dying very soon after. He also observed prisoners who were able to maintain a positive attitude despite their horrific circumstances, and noted that they were more likely to survive.
So what message does this have for us, as business owners, leaders, managers or team members?
If we feel stuck in a situation in which we don’t feel empowered, we always have a choice. Sometimes the only choice we have is what attitude we take to an external situation, but we ALWAYS have a choice. It may not be a one that we like, but it’s there.
For instance, a business owner who has spent years and countless hours training an employee, may feel that they have no choice but to give in when that employee threatens to leave if they are not given a pay rise. The business owner may feel stuck, and that they don’t have any option but to give in.
But what is truly going on? What’s really happening is that they don’t like the consequences of the choices available to them.
The business owner has an option to let that employee go, even though the outcome of that decision may result in them being short-staffed and potentially not being able to service their customers as effectively as usual.
They could also choose to give in to the employee’s demands, even though they don’t feel the pay rise is warranted. This could lead to resentment and a precedent that other employees may follow.
A third choice could be improving their own management skills, and dealing with conflict head-on. They could choose to have an uncomfortable conversation in which they tell their employee that they will not be getting a pay rise, and why.
None of these options may seem ideal, but they are still available choices.
As another example, an employee feeling miserable in a job which has great conditions may feel that they have no choice but to stay. Perhaps their mortgage and lifestyle has adapted to their current rate of pay and their hours, and they think they’ll never get the same conditions anywhere else.
Is this employee truly trapped in their situation? Of course not! They just need to accept the consequences if they choose to make a change. A new job may mean less flexible working hours, or reduced benefits, and they may have to adjust their lifestyle accordingly, but they do have the option to leave if that’s what they want.
They could also choose to take 100% responsibility for their situation, and look at ways to improve their working life. Perhaps they haven’t addressed their concerns with management in a respectful or productive way, and could approach things from a different angle.
Or perhaps they could choose to adjust their attitude, and focus on the positive aspects of their workplace and accept that while no workplace is ever perfect, this one is good enough.
In reality, they have several choices.
So next time you feel constrained and like you don’t have any options, take another look. What are the choices available to you and their consequences?
They may seem drastic and undesirable.
You may have to choose between two or three less than ideal scenarios.
But you always have a choice.