The courage to be disliked (or separation of tasks)
It’s a beautiful book written as a conversation between a student and a philosopher over the course of a few evenings. The philosopher presses that the all problems in life are interpersonal relationship problems. The student argues that this is an oversimplification.
It’s a fascinating, far reaching conversation that explores many different aspects including our need for approval, parent children responsibilities, the nature (or fallacy) of cause and effect, exploring our true goals and becoming free.
A core idea is the concept of “separation of tasks”. We have certain tasks, others have certain tasks. Where we become unhappy, distressed, confused and angry is when we mix these responsibilities up. The biggest example of this is taking ownership of the task of managing someone else’s emotions. It’s where you don’t say what needs to be said because you’re afraid of the persons reaction. What needed to be said, needed to be said by you. That was your task. Your task is not to manage the other person’s reaction, that’s their task. Taking on other peoples tasks is what causes us distress. If we try to control things we can’t control, we find ourselves with anxiety.
In a typical day you will be presented with many things that need to get done. Some of these will be your tasks, some will be others. Preserve your energy, happiness and control by owning your tasks and ignoring the rest.
This does not mean to not be a team player and be selfishly focussed. As a leader your task is to coach, share a vision, help others to achieve it and ensure a certain level of quality. You cannot be in every level of detail. So when working with a team member your task is to give helpful, but direct, feedback on a task, it’s not to micro manage that task or do it for them. If they then present to a client and they’re still unprepared, haven’t taken your feedback on, you’ve still performed your task and should sleep well knowing this. You fulfilled your task, they didn’t fulfil theirs.
When it comes to managing clients, my task is to ensure a meeting is well designed and run. It has sufficient time allotted, there is enough notice, it’s well prepared, well run. That is my task. What is not my task is making sure the attendees turn up on time, pay attention, give their inputs, say what needs to be said, and be active participants.
To build on this, a very real example is that you’ve done all your tasks, you’re ready for the workshop, but then you get a rogue client individual who says that they disagree with this project, that this should’ve been done a year ago, and they are unsupportive. The workshop is abruptly cancelled. You’ve still fulfilled your tasks, and should sleep very well knowing this.
The success is in completion of the task, not of the outcome. There are items that are out of your control and possibly other peoples tasks.
Finally, as the title suggests “The Courage to be Disliked” comes from the courage to not take on others’ tasks (mentally and physically). If you’re asked to do something, but you aren’t able to do it, say so. It’s taking on the task of managing others’ emotions that led us to saying yes.