Looking at the Bigger Picture: Are We Missing this in Our Work?

‘I hate my work.’

‘The top management doesn’t get us at all.’

‘My boss doesn’t understand how challenging my role is.’

‘Only if I had more resources, I would be the best at what I do.’

‘It’s easy for the top management to direct our to-do’s; we’re the ones who have to execute.’

In my casual conversations with people, I often come across these expressions which, I am sure some of you can resonate with. For someone who considers work as a meaningful outlet, I’m always thrown into a pool of thoughts when I hear such expressions and concerns. Often bewildered. I’m sure when people express such thoughts, they’ve gone through a lot of dissatisfactions, frustrations, unmet needs, and misalignment. It must be difficult to sail past these after a point. For those individuals who’re still in the process of finding what gives them meaning and purpose professionally, it can be even more difficult to navigate such instances calmly and practically.

But, let’s take a pause here and think. Are such expressions outcome of an inward mindset toward the work, the culture, and the people at work. Quite possibly, right? Can you recall what we had last shared about the inward mindset? When we have an inward mindset, we see other people not as people but as objects – as obstacles to overcome, as vehicles to further our own goals and needs, or as irrelevancies to ignore. With an inward mindset, we’re concerned about how things do or don’t fit well with our goals and needs. We seldom care about the one thing we should be worried about the most – the results.

Inward Mindset Toward Our Work

One of my friends lives abroad. She has been working in the domain of human resource management for the past 3 to 4 years now. Quite naturally, the nature of her job is certainly challenging. I mean come on; we’re talking about managing people here, right? Well, jokes apart, this friend of mine is quite passionate about what she does, and I can sense it in the way she speaks about it. But there was a point in time when she couldn’t help but complain about the culture and people at her work, now and then. As much as I know her, she’s always been someone who is upfront about her feelings and thoughts. However, there was a phase when she just caved into office politics. She used to find herself gossiping about the upper management and the board with her colleagues constantly. I know what you’re thinking, this might have escalated conflicts and the organization must have succumbed to negative workplace culture, right? Well, it would have led to such disastrous outcomes, had she not realized the pervasive grip of the inward mindset she had developed toward her work and especially, the top management.

A conversation is what led my friend out of the inward mindset that she had been subject to. During a one on one conversation with a relatively new join, instead of asking him what was going well or what was challenging for him in the new workplace, she started advising him on how to survive their negative work culture. She started telling him how the top management didn’t care how the people were doing below them and how everyone’s on their own. What happened next was what changed my friend for the better. After hearing my friend criticize and complain for almost half an hour, the new join asked, “Do you care how the people in your organization do?” To this day, my friend recalls how she was enraged after hearing that question. She immediately defended herself and admitted to caring about the people at work the most. It took her a month before she realized that her actions were expressing the exact opposite message of what she told her colleague.

Consequences for Organizations because of an Inward Mindset

From the discussion so far, you must have realized what happens when an individual or groups of individuals become inward toward their work and the people they work with. With an inward mindset, we do not see what others need. We only care for what we need. What’s interesting is that the people around us—our colleagues, our subordinates, and the upper management can see this. Yes, they can. We may not communicate our inwardness outright but, people can sense it because mindset drives behavior. This is in congruence with what Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Our behavior may be good on the surface but if our mindset is not right, people can sense it because we eventually communicate blame to them.

 With an inward mindset, other people don’t matter. What matters is our own needs, goals, and objectives. We become victims of our own thoughts and feelings. We blame others for our frustrations or failures. It leads us to become unhelpful to others even when we can help them. Inward mindset promotes vengeance and contempt rather than empathic cooperation. ‘If they don’t help me, why should I?’ ‘If they don’t care about me, why should I?’ What’s more, when we operate with an inward mindset, we look for reasons to justify our inward behavior. We do this by inflating our virtues and other people’s faults (or deflating their virtues). Inwardness further invites inwardness. When we’re inward toward other people, we communicate blame and we invite others to do the same to us. When people in an organization become inward, the organization itself becomes inward. Departments may try to protect the resources that they have—at the expense of organizational interests. Employees might blame each other for their inability to solve problems. All this could finally lead to what no organization desires – ‘poor results.’

Incongruence Between Employees and Leaders: Outward Mindset is a Way Out

When people in an organization work together, there are likely to be disagreements, arguments, or even misalignment of goals. I would say this is completely normal because as individuals, we all have different notions, belief systems, values, and goals, so everyone may not always be on the same page. However, what’s important to understand is that – by being inward as a result of such differences, we give reasons to other people to not listen to us or cooperate with us further. To embrace such differences and encourage cooperation, what we need is an outward mindset – also what we call an emotionally intelligent mindset.

What employees need to understand is that the upper management team consists of ‘people’ too. They have their strengths as well as weaknesses. As much as they would try to empathize with each employee’s needs – it’s difficult to please everyone. If we think about it, most of the time we accuse that the leaders don’t care and won’t care. The truth, in fact, is that they have so much more to care and worry about than we think. They are ‘people’ trying to drive everyone toward the bigger picture – the collective results of the organization. And, while they’re at it, they have their own set of challenges to overcome, mistakes to rectify, and accusations to bear. Therefore, employees need to comprehend the implications of an inward mindset and the impact it will likely have on the leaders.

An organization will mostly likely be down in dooms if all these factors drive the leaders to become inward too. Hence, leaders must understand the cost of inward mindset that an organization and its people eventually have to pay, if the inwardness persists for long. They must be able to truly assess how inward they are or their organization is, before they can become outward themselves and drive other people in the organization to operate with an outward mindset too. Leaders should time and again remind themselves that they along with their team need to mobilize around collective goals. An organization can, in no way achieve that, if everyone aboard has an inward mindset. At My Emotions Matter, we help design and facilitate sessions and consulting services to help address the issue of inwardness in organizations. We work with leaders, managers, and teams to create a culture that focuses on the outward mindset instead of a default self-focused mindset.

Eventually, irrespective of whether we’re employees or leaders, we need to understand that an outward mindset is for our own benefit. Rather than waiting on others to change, we need to start by correcting what we’re doing wrong and reframe our mindset. Every single person in an organization contributes to making it the way it is. So, we must be aware of whether we’re contributing to making things worse or better in an organization. If we wait on the others to initiate this awareness and to bring about a change in their mindset, there are chances that the change may never take place.


Aprajita Jha

Aprajita Jha is Linchpin at My Emotions Matter and can be reached at [email protected]

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