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In amongst the uncertainty since COVID-19 hit our lives, people appear to be responding in varied ways. 

At one end, there is optimism, expressions of kindness, appreciation for family, and what we already have, a time to reflect. 

At the other end, there is fear, worries about not having enough toilet paper, sudden poverty, frustration, loss, and grief and sorrow for what has been lost – and all sorts of other feelings and expressions in between. The suddenness of having to adapt to unexpected change is also in the mix. 

What’s interesting to watch – and to experience – is how people are adjusting to the moment. 

I believe while a lot of these changes have been forced on us, how we respond is up to us as individuals.

I have seen people want certainty in their lives at any cost, and I have seen other people wondering just what sorts of possibilities there may be as a result of the change in their circumstances. Perhaps the way people respond is also a reflection of who they are and how they adapt to change. 

I don’t know for sure. What I am seeing though is some people are more openly yet firmly bedding down the need for certainty and, as a result, eliminating any level of curiosity about alternative ways of thinking and operating. While that is understandable on many levels, being on the receiving end of judgement and fixed thinking is not an enjoyable place to be!  I wonder how many opportunities are lost to us when we cut out different points of view from our thinking? 

Recently, I came face to face with this question again, but this time as a mother and advocate for my daughter negotiating a Service Agreement. Well, I thought I was negotiating – but somehow along the way, it became apparent that my say was not part of the process at all! I found out later I was expected to have signed the Service Agreement and also provided the full copy of my daughter’s NDIS Plan before the first meeting with a service provider. None of that was in writing, so when I didn’t do what was expected, the reaction followed along pretty quickly. The provider was completely perplexed: Why didn’t I do what every other family does? What is so hard about completing the process before a meeting?  No, we aren’t remotely interested in your daughter’s rights because what you have done about that is in the past, and that is not relevant to what we are doing now. Just sign the documents and be done with it, in other words!

Reflecting on this later, what struck me was the lost opportunity to learn something new (yes, for me too). I have thought about what was happening here that meant a structured, right and systematic business approach would take precedence over something simple that a customer was asking for? What could I have done to alleviate the underlying fear of something different? 

Where were the signs that this response was going to happen? How was the ‘other families’ being heard if they have had any specific queries or requests for their son or daughter? Were they offered any alternatives or was it simply ‘this is how things are done around here – like it or lump it’? And for the service provider, the opportunity to learn something about the way I was approaching having my daughter’s needs met was lost. In my experience, there was no interest in what my daughter needed as an individual. That seriously alarmed me. Similarly, there was no curiosity or interest in considering alternative perspectives about the way the service could be provided to her. 

The power was resting firmly with the service provider, and that appeared to be the way it would be. This sort of approach is about the use of positional power which is an interesting consideration at the moment. The truth is that I am fully aware that I have my points of view, and I know that everyone else does as well. However, sticking to one position and not being able to consider anything different in today’s world, particularly with all of the uncertainty and implications of forced change upon all of us, is an interesting choice and may not result in the outcomes anyone (myself included) would want. I believe positional power comes with great responsibility. Yes, I can dictate the rules, the ways things are done around here (‘my way or the highway!’), but the impact on trust, loss of connection and the likelihood of damaged relationships and reputation are all too possible. 

Over the years, I have learned a lot about how power can be used, and here are some things to consider about the use of positional versus personal power:

1. Tread carefully. If you remain fixed about your points of view, sooner or later this will come back to haunt you!
2. Provide space for different ideas to be raised.  You don’t have to think of everything on your own.
3. Authentically engage with people and actively listen to what they have to say. This means leaving the ‘judgement hat’ somewhere else.
4. Consider how to be teachable yourself and model the way. There are many tangible benefits to this approach, particularly in building trust and being seen as a great leader.
5. See beyond your perceptions. Be curious and open to different ways of seeing the world – you might learn something new!

Perhaps sticking to what we already know is easier when times are unsettled. However, if we continue to operate like this when so much is changing around us, when we stay fixed to doing things one way instead of being even more transparent about what we are doing for the people we serve when influences outside of ourselves can have an impact we can’t control, well, the outcome could go many different ways and not all of them good. It may well be that the way we respond might make all the difference….

Thinking ahead:
1. Have you considered the impact of personal and positional power in your work life? How do you know what these impacts are?
2. In what ways can your team contribute feedback about your use of power? In what ways do they use their power with you?

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