I was recently in a conversation with someone that was complaining. I listened for a while, I heard their frustration and saw that they were struggling. I was happy to be there for them in their time of need, to listen. And I wanted to support them in moving past this place of frustration and powerlessness.
“Wow, that sucks. What are you going to do about it?” I casually asked.
From that question, the tone and rhythm of the conversation changed. Instead of this rushing stream of words coming out of their mouth with vigor, they paused, their breathing slowed. After a brief moment of silence came reflective, thinking aloud thoughts that built on each other like slowly assembling a house out of Legos without any directions.
I ask that type of question in conversation all the time in some way shape or form because I have a pet peeve - all talk and no action.
It really bothers me when people complain while refusing to do anything to address their woes. Years ago, I would have launched into a lecture with the goal of fixing the problem for the person complaining or at the very least, setting them straight.
But I learned that rarely produced the results I had hoped for. That while I thought I had things all figured out, the other person didn't feel committed to the solutions I laid out there so the follow-through was non-existent.
It was through my training in Conversational Intelligence that I learned a different tactic that has proven to be much more effective at encouraging someone to move from all talk to constructive action by simply letting go of my need to fix and instead, asking open and honest questions. With a tweak in how I showed up, I was able to leverage my pet peeve as a source of good.
Coaching clients almost always share their pet peeves with me. They are usually a source of tension and frustration. Pet peeves are things we care strongly about and so when someone does (or doesn't do) something that links to a personal pet peeve we tend to get triggered.
I've heard clients express frustration at seeing inefficiencies at work or employees not being tidy or co-workers not caring as much they do. They're all fired up when talking about it then become deflated when reflecting on how their past efforts failed to affect change.
This is when they typically say, "I just need to let it go" or "I guess I have to get over it."
I respond with my classic, "Yes and no."
I've noticed that people have a tendency to internalize responsibility for others who trigger their pet peeves. Just like I did before, wanting to move people past all talk and no action by telling them what to do. Because it bothered me, I took it on as my job to fix it.
So, yes, we need to let go of assuming personal responsibility when others trigger our pet peeves. At the same time, we need to acknowledge, for ourselves, that when something bothers us like that it's because we care. And routinely dismissing something we care about can be soul-crushing in the long run.
Instead, we can embrace what we care about as a super-power without internalizing responsibility for the actions of others. We can do that by heeding the call to act on what we care about while being mindful about what is and is not within our control.
A participant in a retreat I recently facilitated reflected back to me, "There were times when I thought for sure that we were stuck and you would find a way for us to move forward together even though I didn't think that was possible."
I received that positive feedback because I have learned to leverage my pet peeve, all talk and no action, as a unique way to inspire others into collective action. Just like my client recently learned to leverage her pet peeve, inefficiencies in work processes, as an opportunity to call people into conversations that have led to drastic improvements that otherwise have alluded her.
We have the choice to get hot and bothered or to harness our pet peeves as a source of good. The difference between the two is in the story we tell ourselves and how we show up as a result.