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Focus on what you can control, and keep the distractions out of your head.

Noise obscurring the underlying signal
Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Are you shouting at the rain?

Because I will let you in on a little secret.

The rain doesn't care that you weren't prepared and got wet or not.

Complaining about people you work with, the goings on in another area to where you work or how hard done by you feel are all similar to shouting at the rain.

  • They are not something you control.

  • They are rarely something you can influence.

  • They are something you are concerned with.

Spending your time and energy on the circle of concern makes it larger at the expense of your circles of control and influence. Your ability to control and influence gets smaller because your focus is elsewhere. Focusing on things outside your inner two circles leads to distraction, inefficiency, reduced effectiveness, cynicism, and a glass-half-empty mindset.

Three concentric circles labelled: control, influence, concern

Spend your time and energy on what you can control or influence. The stuff outside your influence doesn't care that you are unhappy with it.

Sometimes people can benefit by changing the way they think, especially when their thinking limits their success.

It isn't as straightforward as that. Because if it were easy, then it wouldn't happen when of course, we are all guilty of spending too much time focused on the things we can't directly impact at points during our careers - especially when something doesn't go according to plan.

The good news is that we can do things to stay focused. To feed what propels your drive while simultaneously reducing unwanted and often harmful distractions.

Here is a scenario that will occasionally come up in my coaching work. It is for when you are a manager of someone who seems to be complaining a lot, whether during your 1-2-1 meetings with them or perhaps more publicly in team and group settings. These people are often a constant source of tension and conflict in the team. In the workplace, these people aren't just annoying and frustrating. They can significantly hinder our performance. Their negative impact leads to a lack of trust, and a lack of trust is a hidden tax that magnifies conflict and reduces the opportunities that lead to successful win-win outcomes.

I have discovered two different approaches that are equally effective when seeking to expand control and influence rather than concern:

Approach 1: Ask, "What support or needs do you have that you are not currently getting to be at your best?" "Because I am experiencing you

  • As operating at less than 100%, more like 75%,

  • Being reactive rather than proactive,

  • Requiring me to provide too much direction."

This has the benefit of providing timely constructive feedback, and you empower them to say what they need. Allow the silence to grow. Don't rescue them. They need to engage and keep saying more. Ask, "What else?" or "Is there anything else?"

Approach 2: Or, to jolt them from their negative thinking, you could ask them a question such as:

  • "What is the real issue here?"

  • "If you didn't have this going on, what would you focus on?"

  • "I am curious, how did person X respond when you said this to them?"

Often people get distracted. The noise in our broader systems seems to grow continuously, making it harder to cut through to the valuable signal underneath it all.

This is your job as their boss. To help them to find their way again, and rather than telling them what to do, you can ask powerful, generative questions to make them think better. You can use these two approaches in various situations, including using them on yourself to hold a mirror up to expose the negative thinking that isn't serving you well.

Everyone can be a leader. Leadership isn't a role or position. It is defined through your actions - whatever your seniority. A leader can positively move themselves and their teams by exercising initiative within their circles of influence and control.


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