Understanding Workplace Contradictions

by Marcianne Kuethen
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two different buttons, each claiming the other isn't true

Daily life is filled with contradictions. As the mother of a toddler, Sue* was torn every day between spending happy time with her young son and battling to pick up toys, socks, and baby paraphernalia. “The problem is, being a great mom and running a household just don’t go well together!” she told me with frustration in her voice.

In the workplace, similar contradictions occur. “My boss said he wanted my honest input,” shared Shawn*, “but when I told him what I thought, he got mad at me for being negative.” As a team player and a natural techie, John* often set aside his own work to help coworkers with their technology and administrative problems. While even his supervisor regularly requested his help, she couldn’t stop the manager from firing him when he struggled to complete his own work.

Do you feel like workplace expectations are high, yet it’s often impossible to do everything perfectly that your job requires, especially when you’re put under pressure to do two things that contradict each other?

Well, believe it or not, there’s a science to understanding what’s happening in such cases, and managers and employees alike can benefit from the explanation. If your job is driving you nuts, you’ll want to read this article by Fred Kofman, professor of leadership and coaching.

Kofman uses a graph and economics terms to explain what’s happening. It’s “impossible to produce more of one good without producing less of the other, since resources have to be transferred from the latter to the former.”

Often, managers don’t understand the principle of opportunity cost, says Kofman. They communicate contradictory expectations, such as to devote all your time to supporting your colleague and devote all your time to your project. It puts you in a no-win situation–you can’t do both, and if you speak up, your boss may see you as a troublemaker and not a problem-solver.

For Kofman’s solution to this double bind, you’ll have to read the whole article–it’s well worth your time.

Would you like to improve your life, leadership and business skills? Perhaps you need a mentor.

*names have been changed to protect privacy

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