Implicitly and explicitly I hear every week people tell me what they are not responsible for and have no control over.

Bluntly, they are usually wrong.

The most common protestations of being a victim of circumstance are:

“They are not listening:”

Well, hold the press. Human beings are generally poor at listening. This is a given, not a revelation.

Humans filter what they hear, based on their mood, their values, their upbringing and their thinking styles. The filtering can delete or reconstruct words leading to a different meaning.

They want to complete other people’s sentences, they think of a response whilst allegedly listening to what the other person says.

They skim read, their eyes generally wanting to dart from picture to picture and then read the first and second paragraph.

Their memory remembers first and last words, repeated words and words which are unusual. Their memory adds words which sound like they should fit in but which were not actually spoken.

Of course people are poor at listening. That is why it is our responsibility, the one doing the communicating, to help them hear what we have to say.

If it is a communication about change, we have to tell them early and tell them often, allowing opportunities for different parts of the communication to filter through at different times. We have to use different media and different styles to enable the people who prefer pictures to “get it”, as well as those who prefer text. We have to allow them to ask questions of clarification and we have to test for their understanding.

What we must not do with an important communication is send out the memo/e-mail or a presentation as a one shot and expect them to understand.

“I don’t have the time:”

Most people manage time badly. They do not value it and fritter it away on low value activities and procrastination. They worry about an activity in the future whilst they are completing a current activity with the resultant loss in productivity. They do not plan their time to complete the active important tasks in blocks of uninterrupted time.

They do not prioritise between important and unimportant, urgent and not urgent, active and reactive.

They do not plan in blocks of time to do the reactive tasks where they may not know exactly what they are going to do, just that there will be a lot of it e.g. emails, phone messages. Some jobs are almost completely reactive, e.g. barman, customer service operator and the time for active important tasks must be cut out of a routine reactive day.

They give reasons, excuses and justifications for not managing their time, but they rarely hold up to scrutiny. They allow people to interrupt there schedule taking up valuable time which could be used to complete an important task, rather than planning a time when people can see them and communicating that time to the people who might like to see them.

They complain about having insufficient resources, but do not put forward a cogent business case to get the resources, rather leaving it as an item on a shopping list of items that they would like. They do not monitor their time usage on occasions to see how time utilisation might be improved e.g. meetings they do not need to attend, activities that they can delegate.

Instead they complain, “I don’t have the time”.

“That is a good idea but we can’t because:”

When this refrain comes from a manager, the set of three lights I have in my head that represents a manager’s worth goes immediately from all green to one red and one amber and one green. It is the laziest form of thinking. The manager has gone to the trouble of thinking through an idea that has merit in terms of its possible outcome. They have thought about the risks for successful implementation. Then they stop!

I could get almost anyone from the organisation in a room and come up with good ideas and the risks associated with implementing them. But they don’t have the skills and knowledge I would expect from a manager or the authority over budget to get appropriate resources to find solutions to reduce or eliminate the identified risks.

Even the language, “We can’t because” turns at least one green light amber. “We can do this at this cost and that consequence” is what I want to hear from managers. I want to hear a positive view rather than a flat negative view. At least then we are talking about options and the conscious decision to do something or to not do something rather than just an unconscious decision to do nothing.

We make choices in our working life, whether they are explicit or implicit. We do have the ability to exercise control over what we do. It is our choice, our responsibility.