Partnering in the workplace means holding out for each other’s highest good: managers and employees connect on the needs that matter most to each other and co-create ways to get those needs met. The problem is we’ve been schooled to suppress our valid human needs – to stuff them down. Here’s what happens when we do.
What do the following behaviours all have in common?
Cliquey, exclusive, gossiping, complaining, people-pleasing
Micromanaging, controlling, finger-pointing, overly analytical
Maverick, rule-breaker, no follow-through, unreliable, takes unwise risks
Takes the credit, one-upmanship, has to be right, political & posturing, hyper-competitive
Cynical, hyper-critical, sarcastic, dark humor, checked out, jaded
We’ve asked many thousands of participants this question in our work at Juice. The consensus is that these behaviors are toxic, counter-productive, narcissistic, energy-sapping, and signal insecurity.
While we do agree with that consensus, there is something else even more elemental that all these behaviours have in common. Each of these behaviours can be an unskillful expression of an unmet need. Humans have oxygen-like, biologically urgent five driving needs: belonging, security, freedom, significance and meaning.
Cliquey-ness and gossiping are unskillful expressions of an unmet need for belonging.
The micromanager is not micromanaging because he is so buttoned down and organized – he has a valid driving need for security and cannot afford the risk of things going off the rails.
The maverick who takes unwise risks or doesn’t follow through has a valid need for freedom – expressed unskillfully.
The person who takes credit for others’ ideas or has to be right has an oxygen-like need for significance.
The cynical person has a beautiful ideology, based in their valid need for meaning. When that need for meaning goes unmet, they go sideways – expressing dark sarcastic humour.
This is why an ethos of partnering is vital. Absent this mindset, we see the unskillful behavior and begin to write the person off – we sideline them. But when we act as partners – holding out for each other’s highest good – we ask ourselves, “What’s the unmet need, and how can I help him or her get that need met skillfully?”
Partners go beyond that as well to straightforwardly ask the questions that draw out what matters most to their partner. This marked a crucial pivot in Ziad’s approach.
Unmet needs create a down-spiral of suffering
This true story of Paula and Ziad has a great ending (stay tuned!) But if Ziad had not changed his approach from parenting Paula to partnering with her, the career spiral that followed would have been all too familiar to us:
A person has a valid human need, essential to her well-being.
The need goes undiscussed – stuffed by the employee, the manager or both.
The unfulfilled need produces depletion leading to career-damaging performance.
Psychological needs can’t be tricked. They’re intelligent: they know when they’re being met and they know when they’re not.
By this time, the need has tendrils of toxic emotions intertwined with it, and you’re now at a loss to broach the subject. It’s hard enough to talk about your need – doubly hard to talk about your emotions of resentment and feeling used. As the need continues to go unaddressed, learned helplessness sets in and the notion of getting it met becomes impossible.
When workers experience this dynamic, signs of burnout begin to manifest: emotional exhaustion, dark cynicism and incompetence. Not surprising that all this can even lead to physical sickness.
Stuffing our needs down also short-circuits performance. Unable to concentrate, workers begin exhibiting behaviours that undermine their credibility. They make errors, complain, resist change, protect their turf, leak negativity, engage in unproductive conflict and make it difficult for others to help them. This produces the perfect recipe for sustained burnout: High demands and low resources.
Energy for things that matter
Imagine a different world, a world where people partner so they can be highly productive throughout their day, and have energy left over at the end of their day – energy for their spouse, for their kids, for their community and for their pursuits. This energy comes back to work the next day in all the ways that matter.
It’s a world where people are aware of their psychological needs, break with convention and express those needs in a skillful manner, and partner with others to get them fulfilled in ways that create well-being, vitality and optimal performance.
It’s ironic that when leaders aim to “manage” engagement, greater disengagement often results.
Juice’s white paper, The Engagement Paradox, explains why and gives you 7 brain-based leadership principles to shift your strategy for the results you want.