Are You Being Too Tolerant? Ask Madeleine

Business Woman With Computer Dear Madeleine,

I’ve painted myself into a bit of a corner. I’ve never insisted on having the latest equipment, software, or even outside help at work. I’ve pretty much worked with the equipment I was given and made do with the resources I’ve had.

The problem is, everything is old—my laptop was designed for Windows XP, my software is from 2007 -2010, and I’ve gotten so good at doing everything myself that I don’t know how to begin to ask for more resources. What can I do?  –Creaking Along

Dear Creaking,

It sounds like you’ve gotten good at tolerating a less than ideal work environment. Tolerations are small, seemingly inconsequential things that drain your energy. They have a way of accumulating like barnacles on a ship—a few aren’t a problem, but layers and layers over the years take a toll on a vessel’s speed and performance.

One of the most famous examples of a small but exasperating toleration is found in the classic film It’s A Wonderful Life.  Jimmy Stewart—as George Bailey—constantly grabs the newel post at the bottom of the staircase in his house only to have the top come off in his hands.  He is only slightly distracted the first time we see it happen; yet, as things go increasingly awry and the stressors mount, he becomes more and more annoyed.  Ultimately, he dissolves into a completely irrational rage when the top of the post comes off one more time.

We all can recognize ourselves in that progression, can’t we?

Later in the movie when George comes back from his adventure of seeing what the world would have been like without him, the top of the post comes off in his hand once again. This time he kisses it in recognition that his petty problems are nothing compared to all that is good and wonderful about his life.

It isn’t an accident that this is one of the most popular movies of all time. We can all use the reminder—but if you can turn a toleration into something that reminds you how lucky you are, you are a rare being indeed!  The rest of us are going to have to grab the tool kit and hammer down the top of that darn newel post after throwing a little wood glue on there for good measure.

Ready to get started?  Here’s a three-step process that will help.

  • The first step in eliminating tolerations is to name them. Think about all of the things you are putting up with at work.  Think of as many as you can.  Write quickly. Aim for twenty-five. Start with your old laptop, outdated software, colleagues who don’t return calls, resources that get allocated to other people.  They are usually things that, on their own, are not large enough to require your immediate attention—but they bug you just the same.
  • Next, triage and organize. Review your list and identify what you can change and what you can’t.  Remember that listing what you are putting up with doesn’t make you a whiner—it’s actually the beginning of the process of eliminating what drains you and keeps you from focusing on what is really important.
  • Take action. The power of tolerations comes from their buildup and their subsequent removal. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your state of mind is to literally change a light bulb in the hallway, clean out your file drawer, or get the hem fixed on your favorite pants. Dealing with tolerations has a magical way of putting a spring back in your step so you can get back to the business you most need to focus on.

A lot of tolerations don’t cost much to fix, but they do require that you put a little focus, time, and energy into taking care of yourself. There’s a certain pride in being low maintenance—and you have probably even earned a reputation for it—but you are now paying the price. Don’t let old, outdated equipment, poor work habits on the part of your colleagues, or any other toleration keep you from being as productive as you can.   Make your list, start with the biggest tolerations first and continue to chip away at them steadily. Going forward, identify and eliminate tolerations on a regular basis.  In the long run, it’s better for everyone.

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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