Welcome to Emotion in Tech, a new series in which I reflect on the unavoidable connections between our emotional states and the work we do.

change bumper stickerThere’s a bumper-sticker quote (or as I’m starting to think of them, Pinterest quotes) attributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It’s a nice sentiment, but as personal mottos go it’s both a little smug and a little unrealistic.  Can one person really exert that much control over the whole world simply by changing his or her own actions?

It turns out that’s not exactly what Gandhi was saying.  According to The New York Times, the closest verifiable quote from Gandhi is “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Perhaps “Be the change you want to see in your world” would be a better approximation.

Change is Scary

Yesterday my team had a facilitation workshop with Stacey Sargent of Connect Growth and Development, which I can’t recommend highly enough.  We spent a lot of time talking about how we deal with stress, how we give feedback and what we’d most like to see as the team continues to grow.

I’ve struggled with fear throughout my career (it rhymes, so it must be true).  When I get stressed, I begin to fear change. When I feel afraid, I start to shut down, becoming less communicative.  I also become increasingly territorial about my work as I retreat into my own safe little world. This makes me less open to collaboration.  I know this about myself and can work to correct for these feelings of fear, but it’s difficult and requires a lot of self-awareness at work – not easy when I’m emotionally drained from stress.

hear, see, speak . . . no evil

When I’m stressed, I also become more conflict-avoidant.  That means I’m less likely both to give and to solicit feedback.  This is maybe the most bonkers and counter-productive emotional trap I set for myself (OK, maybe Top 10), because the best way for me to NOT feel stressed and fearful is to be able to trust that my teammates will tell me if there’s a problem.

SEOmoz has been growing a lot lately, and with growth comes change, and check the subhead: change is scary.  What am I worried about? Among other things, I’m worried that a bigger team will mean increased siloing and reduced visibility into other people’s projects – that I’ll be out of the loop and unable to work as effectively as a result. I’m also worried that spiders will drop down from the ceiling onto my face while I’m sleeping, but I don’t think that’s related to company growth.

The Call is Coming From Inside the House

So let’s break that down together, shall we?

When I am scared:

  • I stop communicating about what I’m doing
  • I resist collaboration
  • I stop giving feedback

What I am scared of:

  • Not having visibility into what other people are doing
  • Losing opportunities to collaborate due to siloing

How I can stop being scared:

  • Trust my teammates to give me necessary feedback

Face. Palm.
funny pictures of cats with captions

Lead Yourself by Example

I may not be able to be the change I want to see in the world at large (although if someone can tell me how to be “spiders not crawling on my face ever,” I’d be happy to do that), but I can be the change I want to see in my world. It’s as simple as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If I want increased visibility team-wide, I can lead by example and give as much visibility as I can into my own projects and processes.  If I want to avoid siloing, I need to create as many opportunities for intra-team and cross-team transparency and collaboration as I can. If I want to be able to trust my teammates to give me feedback, I need to work through my conflict-avoidance to show them that they can trust me to do the same.

What’s so great about this is that I now have a list of personal emotional action items that will not only make me a better team member but also will directly benefit my own emotional health.  All that in just two steps:

  1. Quit doing the stuff I want other people to quit doing.
  2. Start doing the stuff I want other people to start doing.

Now those are some bumper stickers I’d be happy to drive behind.