When my eldest son Josh was six, we moved into our home. Our neighborhood was built in a wooded area and, unfortunately, the building of this community displaced wildlife. We had new landscaping and the deer were thrilled with the fresh vegetation that had been planted. My husband and I talked, evidently quite a lot, about how to prevent the deer from eating our new plantings.
Our son Josh, being young and impressionable, had a nightmare about the deer. It was a wake-up call to me, quite literally, to be more careful about what I talked about and what stressors I brought into our home.
A few months ago, I was working with a chief financial officer, Beatrice. Beatrice told me that her chief operating officer Marsha was just so negative, and it was wearing her down. Beatrice would come in each day, excited about her work and her to-do list, but she soon felt disempowered. When I asked more clarifying questions, I learned that Beatrice and Marsha arrived at work early and started their day by going for coffee. They enjoyed this morning ritual, and they genuinely liked and cared about each other.
As Beatrice continued, she said that she often felt overwhelmed after their talks. She felt anxious about how the board might respond to a new project she was presenting, possibly because Marsha raised a number of obstacles in a fearful way. She worried that when she gave performance feedback to Vince, he would become explosive, because, you guessed it, Marsha had given Vince feedback before and it had not gone well.
I learned that Beatrice “coffeed” with Marsha because she was lonely at the top. As an executive director, there were few people Beatrice could confide in since she couldn’t talk about personnel issues or her own vulnerability with her staff. Marsha was Beatrice’s only confidant.
Unlike Beatrice, my son Josh didn’t have much of a choice about what he listened to; he was a child in his home. As a child, it is more difficult to just tune someone out (although by the time many kids are teenagers, they have tuning out parents down to an art form!).
As Beatrice and I talked, we discussed how Marsha squashed her enthusiasm, increased her anxiety, and simply, “rained on her parade.” When we discussed stopping the coffee habit, Beatrice was concerned about hurting Marsha’s feelings. As we explored further, Beatrice recognized that by giving Marsha a “voice or platform” she was actually enabling this negativity.
Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker and businessman, famously said that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This statement, while not scientific, is widely accepted and acknowledged as true.
Who do you spend time with, and do they take you down or do they help you advance to your next, higher level?