5 Steps to Help Get that Monkey of Your Back

March 26, 2014


A wonderful conversation I had this week with a fellow coach inspired today’s post. I think we can all relate to these situations, whether we are the offenders or the victims.

Let’s start here …

Ever have a vision of that perfect workday — when you have your list of things to accomplish and it all goes off without a hitch? Hopefully, you have many of those days when you are in the flow and getting things done. But, one fine day you are thrown that “monkey” – that emergency or problem that belongs to someone else and is thrown on you to “fix now” (or the world will end)!

Been there, yes?

This can happen due to a lack of planning, strategy, understanding, or commitment of the other person. You may have someone in your organization who does often, causing you to tackle other people’s emergencies, which subtracts that precious time you need to actually do your own work and feel a sense of accomplishment.

If you are leading others, it may be wise for you to evaluate how you operate and identify if this is something that you tend to do. This habit is often unconscious and can be habitual. However, I’d suspect that if you don’t appreciate others throwing monkeys on your back, you probably don’t want to be doing it to others you are leading or working with. This behavior, if done consistently, can create a hostile or resentful work environment.

If you are on the receiving end, you may be having difficulty preventing this from happening. It’s important to be a team player, and sometimes we all have to take one for the team, even if it’s not our job. But, if you’re feeling like a zookeeper lately, it’s time to do something about those monkeys and speak up!

Here are 5 steps you can take to send those monkeys where they belong!

  1. Keep a daily list of your priorities – especially those that make or break the business. You were hired for a reason. Make sure you know how important your work is so that others know as well.
  2. Don’t add fuel to the fire! Usually, when the monkeys are thrown to you they come with anxiety and a sense of desperation. When working with individuals (especially those who lead us!), it’s easy to take on their anxiety and not see the forest among the trees. Breathe. Remain calm. Don’t mirror back the emotions you see and feel. Instead, create a space of serenity around the issue. You can help be the water that puts out the fire by bringing clarity and reality to the situation. Ask: Is this truly an emergency? Is it really needed NOW? Am I the right person to fix this? Why did this happen and how can we prevent it from happening again?
  3. Place that monkey in its cage! Create a holding space for the issue until that safe space has been created to understand what the real story is. In the heat of the moment, our tendency can be to drop everything and “handle this now!” But, what happens when this is a pattern? Instead of producing quality work and moving forward, we are simply handling “stuff” and moving nowhere.
  4. Have that difficult conversation. Now that you (a) know your priorities, (b) stayed calm, and (c) took time to understand the situation fully and its importance (or not), now it’s time to (d) muster up the courage to address the situation or pattern. Helping your supervisor, colleague or subordinate understand the value of your position and work. Additionally, if the behavior is a pattern, it’s uber important to help the other person (won’t happen overnight) understand that. They may not be receiving any feedback at all and feel it’s okay to throw their work onto others. Prepare a script to help you practice. A simple start to the conversation could go like this:

    “Sally, I would love to help you solve this problem. I have these three priorities I’m tending to, and as you are aware, X is due today. I’m happy to dedicate some time to this at the end of the week, or speak to you further to help you figure out how best to solve it. Sound good?”

  5. Build a fence! It’s time to be proactive. Part of being a great team player and self-leader is being aware of issues or situations that can potentially become someone’s monkey, or your monkey! Understand what your team members and your supervisor(s) are/is working on that may boomerang toward you. If you’re not caught off guard you’ll be better prepared to manage through it.  You also may be able to help others be proactive.

Have a monkey you’d like to share? I’d love to help you think it through.

Comment below.

It’s your life. Lead it well.


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