How to Stop Trying to Do Everyone Else’s Work (And Enjoy Doing Your Own)

Over the last few years of working at Synecticsworld, I’ve noticed different themes that have appeared in my work. Over the last couple of months, the theme of “clientship” has come out in a lot of conversations. For those of you that may be hearing this term for the first time in a Synectics context, clientship means putting the ownership for an outcome in the hands of the person who is ultimately responsible for delivering on it.

As straightforward as that concept may sound, many of us are susceptible to making a mistake or two when it comes to recognizing clientship. As I’ve personally experienced it in the past, and I’m hearing again lately, the easiest mistake to make is to take on ownership for someone else’s problems. This is especially problematic when the person who really owns the problem has not asked me to help in that way.

Here are a couple of straightforward examples that might resonate for some of you.

  1. Example #1: Trying to do more than I’m asked. Now, this might sound like heresy in a working environment where everyone is trying to do all they can to distinguish themselves, but few things I’ve witnessed will sap a bright, talented, young person’s energy than doing a ton of extra work for someone that didn’t want it in the first place. I’m sure many of us have been there…we see an opportunity to grow the business, spend a bunch of time doing research, developing a business case, and preparing a meticulous presentation only to find out that the person at the top really isn’t interested. “But the opportunity is so clear! I can’t understand why they would pass on it!” Well, neither can I, but as the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. (NB: Old sayings become old sayings for a reason.) Beating ourselves up because someone else doesn’t want to grow as fast as we do will only lead to us bruising ourselves.
  2. Example #2: Giving advice to someone that doesn’t want it. This is something that likely resonates with many of us. This is what happens when we’ve heard someone vent, or watched someone go through a difficult time in his or her life, and we jump in with a helpful, “Here is what I think you should do…” And we are surprised when that offer lands on the floor with an audible thud and perhaps a dirty look.

The thing that both of these situations have in common is that the person who really owned the problem, the “client” didn’t ask for any help from us. But because we are born as awesome problem-solving machines, we can’t help but try to solve any problem that comes our way. At best, we cause ourselves a lot of extra work and frustration. At worst, we jeopardize friendships or our jobs.

So, how can we avoid this pitfall (in three simple steps)?

  1. When you sense you might be entering a situation where you could be treading on someone else’s clientship, first ask, “Who really owns this problem?”
  2. If it’s not you, figure out what your role might be in helping them. Do you want to help them talk through, or facilitate, solving their issue? Do you want to offer ideas and act as a resource to them in that way?
  3. Once you have figured out the role you want to play, ask for permission. For example, “I think there might be some additional ways to grow the business beyond what has been identified. Can I look into that and provide you with some ideas?” Another example would be, “It sounds like you’ve been going through some tough times. Could I offer a few ideas that I thought about while I was listening to you?”

And, no matter what, if the person says no to your offer of assistance, my offer is to drop it then and there. The sooner we give ourselves permission to pay attention to the people in our lives that want our help and expertise rather than those who don’t, the happier and more productive we are going to be.

Special thanks to Harry Barrett for always reminding me of the importance of clientship.

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