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The Biggest Problem in the Workplace You Might be Overlooking (and How to Solve it)

You can probably fill a whole notebook with problems you face at work. But what if all these problems have one main cause?

Kara Large

I’ve been doing some traveling recently and have had a chance to catch up with friends around the country who all work in very different fields. At some point in every conversation, the topic inevitably shifts to work. No matter how much my friends may love their jobs, they can’t help but bring up all the problems they face each day. 

As humans, we are designed to focus on the negative - it’s what kept us safe ages ago as we were hunting and gathering and trying to survive. Our ancestors had to be on high alert at all times and recognize the potential worst case scenario. Being able to identify the negative is what used to keep us safe. And now, generations later, our brains are still wired to fixate on the negative over what’s actually working for us.

You might get overwhelmed thinking about all the problems you encounter every day at work. Maybe you feel like everyone on your team is lazy, and you’re the only one who is actually getting anything done. Maybe your boss doesn’t delegate enough, and you feel like you get stuck with all the bad projects. Maybe no one is communicating across departments, so there is no accountability and too much confusion. It probably feels like you could go on and on with what isn’t working. 

If you search the Internet for what the biggest problems are at work, you’ll find a ton of lists. Some of the problems that keep recurring on these lists include:

  • Miscommunication (or lack of communication) - you’ll see lots of references to communication problems being top issues at work
  • Inefficiency 
  • Distrust between teams
  • Poor engagement (this includes being late to meetings - or not showing up at all, as well as a general lack of participation)
  • Ineffective organization
  • Lack of leadership
  • Negative attitudes/no morale amongst the team

That’s a lot of problems! And I didn’t even list them all. 

At MacklinConnection, we understand what it’s like to end each day of your job frustrated because nothing seems to be working. In fact, Ron Macklin was tasked with leading the worst team in the company multiple times. He has seen every kind of problem you can imagine play out over and over again. And this is why he spent decades developing a method to help solve workplace challenges. 

When you look at a long list of issues, it can seem too daunting to try to sort out. But what if the biggest challenges you face at work actually all stem from one problem? Wouldn’t that make it easier to figure out?

What is the Biggest Problem in the Workplace?

When Ron was working through how to solve all the problems he kept encountering throughout his career, he started noticing a pattern. All of these issues were the result of stories people had in their heads.

When you communicate with others, you make up a story in your head. You don’t hear what was actually said. Instead you run what was said to you through a series of stories you’ve made up as to how you understand the world. This is something we all do. 

As humans, we don’t actually perceive the world as it is. We are narrative beings. This means that we experience the world (and everyone we interact with) through a filter of stories we have constantly running in our heads. Until we become aware of this, we likely have no idea that we have been doing this our whole lives. 

Think of this scenario:

A manager makes a request of one of their employees. Almost immediately, they start to drift apart - especially if there isn’t a regular dialogue about the expectations for the project. The employee thinks she knows what to do. And the manager believes they were clear in their request.

If the employee doesn’t deliver exactly what the manager wants, the manager will start to make a story up about that employee. For example, they will see the employee as untrustworthy, incompetent, or lazy. When the manager addresses this assignment with the employee, another story is created from the employee’s standpoint. The employee can make up a story that the manager is harsh, controlling, or hard to work with.

These two co-workers will continue working from the framework of the stories they created about each other. And the dynamic might get increasingly worse. The employee might start missing deadlines, reaffirming the manager’s story that she is incompetent. And the employee might start to perceive their manager as more and more hostile. This usually leads to a complete breakdown in communication.

How many times has something like this happened to you?

When you don’t understand that we live in stories in our head, you get the idea that the other person isn’t trustworthy or is somehow “bad” or “mean.” The manager in the situation has a story about their employee being incompetent. The employee thinks their manager is overbearing and demanding. Both people were unaware of the stories they were subscribing to. 

There are so many ways the stories in our heads play out at work. We create hundreds of scenarios about who our co-workers are and how they will act. We focus on the negative and think the worst (thanks to our ancestors). 

How to Solve the Biggest Problem in the Workplace

From our combined experience and the experience of our workshop participants, over and over we see that the best thing you can do to make changes at work is to change the stories in your head. Even though we are wired to see what isn’t working, we also have the ability to reframe our experiences.

At MacklinConnection, we have a story that everyone is doing their best. If someone is late replying to emails or is quiet in a meeting, we don’t automatically assume they are a problem. And this allows us to open a line of communication instead of just writing someone off as being bad at their job.

The first step in rewriting your stories about work and rewiring yourself to see things differently is recognizing your own stories. Start to notice how you talk to yourself about work. 

When you start to recognize your stories, then you can work on shifting them. For example, if you notice yourself thinking that someone at work is impossible to deal with, see if you can reframe the experience. Try working with the idea that they are doing their best. 

It takes time to develop new patterns in our thinking. So keep working on developing more positive stories about your job. As you create new stories and begin to reframe your experience, you’ll start to notice that you are perceiving your work environment differently. 

Are You Ready to Make a Change at Work?

When you face all kinds of challenges at work everyday, it can feel impossible to imagine how it can be better. Maybe your team is consistently missing deadlines, or people keep exchanging passive aggressive remarks. You don’t know if you can handle another day of awkward silence waiting for someone to speak up in a meeting and share a new idea. 

However, when you shift into seeing that all of the problems you encounter really just stem from one root cause, it can feel a lot more manageable.

By noticing the stories you have about your experiences at work, you are able to start rewriting them. This can result in a much more enjoyable work environment for you.

If you’re reading this and feel excited about being able to try a new approach at work, you might be interested in joining our online community to access even more content and connect with others. In our community, you can explore articles centered around sharing vulnerable, authentic stories to help you start to create the life you want. You can also access a library of courses and build connections with others who want to change the world one relationship at a time.