Who are \’they\’ and when is \’when\’?

I was in an organisation recently and part of a conversation about the future of the business when someone used the dreaded \”t\” word……… \’they\’.  \”If \’they\’ would only allow us to get on and do our jobs we would be much more successful\” \"they\"was the general gist.  Now I have helped many functions and organisations with organisational development and design, but have never seen a \’they\’ function on any organogram!  This is contrary to the number of times that I have heard the \’they\’ word bandied around as the reason, excuse and rationale for all of the organisational trials and tribulations.  Often used to describe \’the management\’, the leadership team, or a group of sympathisers, protesters or advocates for a particular initiative, in effect anyone that is not like \’us\’ at that particular point in time.  It is human nature to surround ourselves with people like us and to shun that which is different and does not conform to our world view. Now the \’they\’ function is part of this phenomena, but I believe that it is also a signal for potentially low levels of engagement in an organisation.  If you are looking to blame or cite \’they\’, you are failing to take accountability for what \’you\’ can do to improve, resolve or remedy the situation.  This mindset is a dangerous one that saps discretionary effort and limits potential. Listen out for how many times you hear your colleagues using \’they\’ and even more importantly can you catch yourself saying it?

\"when\"The other word that I hear often in business and personal conversations is \’when\’; of course it is a legitimate word to use in many contexts, but building on the theme above, people use it too often and it represents another failure to take accountability.  It is the classic gateway to Stephen Covey\’s Quadrant II activities, activities that you know are important but are not particularly urgent, or, you would like to do but do not have the energy/courage to execute.  \”When I give X that feedback I am sure the relationship will improve\” ; \”when I get the time I will read that article\” ; \”when I get the chance I will climb Kilimanjaro\”.  The danger of adopting a \’when\’ mentality is that moment never comes, something seemingly more important and certainly more urgent comes along and snatches your precious resources.  \’When\’ is normally referring to time or money, now I am a pragmatist and realise that you cannot make time or money, but you can ask yourself what you could do to move yourself closer to overcoming those constraints?

The double whammy is obviously when these two words are used together and represents the ultimate cop out; \”when they get that sorted we will be able to be more productive\”.  Aaaarrrggggghhh how often have you heard that, and I am not just talking political commentary now!

So what can we do to mitigate the inevitable, because after all, we are only human.

1. Sensory acuity – take advantage of your natural acuity, now you are reminded of the words and the implications, listen out for you and your colleagues using them and find ways of challenging in the moment.
2. Take one thing on your \’when\’ list – action it this week, celebrate that success and use the energy to tackle the next thing on the list.
3. Use the \’If I…\’ technique – try and frame any request or comment on the impact or requirements of others with what you can do to help the situation. \”If I remind Y that we have been waiting for a response then we may get some movement.\”\"DSCF0153\"

Time is too precious not to be the best that you want to be, so don\’t put off today what you may not get the chance to do tomorrow!


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