How do you handle it when your workplace gets reactive?

Volunteer Managers - Reactivity - Twenty Hats

  • Ed’s boss gets back from a networking meeting and hears that three other agencies have started Pinterest boards for their volunteers. The boss wants to know why their program hasn’t got one. Ed decides he better put aside his plans and start one before the week is out – or maybe even begin today.
  • Marie drops into Nancy’s office upset because another co-worker ticked her off. Nancy stops working and spends half an hour trying to calm Marie.
  • The results from the Celia’s volunteer satisfaction survey included six suggested changes to volunteer training. The staff wants to incorporate them all before the next training – and that’s only four weeks away.

Reactivity. It’s so easy to get sucked into it, especially when everyone around you seems to operate the same way.

Plus, reactivity plays into our desire to align with others. It feels good to jump on the bandwagon, like we are being a good team player.

But here’s the challenge: addressing our work with a large dose of reactivity keeps us stuck in manager-mode, putting out fires and dealing with the crisis of the moment. It often prevents us from moving forward with our own projects and seeing them through to completion. Or if we DO complete them, it’s out of exhaustion after we have attended to the unexpected demands of the day.

It’s easy to spot the reactivity of others, and challenging to address it. Sometimes we have no choice but to react in the moment. If a reporter calls and your boss needs volunteer statistics asap, then you had better round them up. If your workplace culture places a priority on responding to volunteers, then you may well need to drop everything when a volunteer walks through your door.

All of this begs the question: how do we manage the reactivity of others? The basic answer is the same as managing your own reactivity – create the mental space to pause and consider a different course of action.

If we don’t become aware of our own responses, then we become a victim of our circumstances, unable effect change in our programs.

Becoming aware of our responses gives us choices.

  • Take Ed. He might jump in and start that Pinterest account, or he might use the opportunity to educate his boss about how the volunteers use (or don’t use) social media. By not responding to a reactive request, Ed is more likely to find a solution that makes sense for his program.
  • Instead of aligning with Marie around her feelings, Nancy might tell Marie that she’s busy now and will listen later. Or – she may choose not to engage around the drama at all.
  • Celia might ask the staff to help her figure out which survey responses require immediate action and which can wait – and plan how to gradually phase in the changes.

 I have a tool for tracking reactivity. Try it!

Managing the reactivity of others starts with awareness. Try using my Reactivity Tracker worksheet to observe your own reactions when those around you act on impulse. By tracking what occurs and reflecting on a better response, you will find yourself thinking – and acting – like a leader.

Email me for the tracker and I will add you to my mailing list for practical skill-builders.

And if you have not done so already, check out Meridian Swift’s article about reactivity in in Volume XVI, Issue 1, of e-Volunteerism.