Tough Situations Teach you Something

#leadership #projectmanagement #learning #lessonslearned

Have you ever been in a situation where you ask “Why do I have to go through this?” You feel it is totally unfair that you have to encounter this, or encounter this again and you just want to get out of this.

These can be many different situations:

  • Injustice
  • Discrimination
  • Total disrespect
  • Unfairness

And you are left feeling this is so unfair. I had even reached a point in live, where I asked whether “please abuse me” is written on my forehead. This was not just in family situations, but also at work. I felt totally frustrated and was wondering why I seem to attract these kind of situations.

The frustration is real. But before you throw in the towel, resign and run away, Let’s take a step back and look at a few points to ponder.

Why could this be happening:
  1. Is there any fault of mine? Am I triggering this? Then I need to change my behavior
  2. What could I have done better?
  3. Is there a problem with the other person?
  4. Could there be a Lesson I need to learn
  5. What options are there? What ways are there to protect me within the company?
  6. Do I need to step away?

I think you are getting the gist of it. Look at yourself first, then start looking at the situation and finally at the options. This is not about raising noise to get perceived justice, but it is about finding solutions and learning lessons. It may not always be the easy way and it may not give you instant justice. But trust me, the long way may often be best.

A sample story

In this one project I suddenly hit a wall. Everything I said hit resistance from the architect. When I said something, it was rubbished, if next time my male colleague said the same thing it would be praised. Even other sub-contractors tried speaking up to protect me, but the architect really rudely diminished anything that came from me. My colleague and I sat down and tried to figure out what was happening. It took us a while; we simply could not put the finger on it. Since usually the architect was professional. Then suddenly my male colleague realized what was happening: This architect was quite short and suffered from, what we call short man syndrome, or SMS. It was hard enough for him to take anything a woman said as important as what a man said, But he could really not take what any man said.

When another female contractor came in who was also taller than him, she suffered the same as me. She got so upset that we ended up with an ugly shouting match on site, after which she went straight to the client and canceled her contract.

Now I could have thrown a fit and reacted similarly, but would it have served any purpose? This other contractor was on her own and was able to say no to a contract. I had been requested to handle this project personally by my director and could not leave.

The Solution

For quite a while we used the system, of both my colleague and I attending the meetings and him speaking. When something came up during discussions that I wanted to respond to I would write it down and show my colleague, who then would present it. In short, I never spoke unless directly addressed. During the sub-contractor coordination meetings, when the architect was not present, I would lead the discussions of our sub-contract work. Of course, in my inner German self I at times felt that I should speak up and put an end to this farce. However, this would never have helped the situation. My colleague encouraged me to play the slow and long game.

All other sub-contractors knew of course what was going on and you would see them hiding smiles. Several came and congratulated me to handling the situation well. Slowly the architect came round and one time he actually told me: You do not need to write this down for Mike to present, you can say it yourself. This was the turning point. From then on the architect would address me directly and I became the one presenting our reports and issues during site meetings.

My biggest lesson learned is: Chose your battles wisely. Sometimes you do not need to fight, but stand up, straighten your crown and move on firmly.


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