I was driving my kids to school one day on a four lane road, two lanes on each side. I was riding in the left lane when I realized there was someone behind me, clearly wanting to pass. You know the car: riding close, swerving slightly, their anxious energy emanating from their vehicle.
I checked my right mirror to switch lanes and get out of the way, but three other cars were riding past. Before I had the chance to switch lanes to get out of the anxious car’s way, the anxious car had already switched lanes to pass me on the right. As they passed, a hand emerged from the window sharing a select finger in my direction.
All I could think was:
Chill out, dude, I was TRYING to get out of your way.
This made me think. How often do we have difficulty switching lanes in our role? Whether this is crossing into a different department or taking on a higher level of responsibility, a change of lanes can often cause anxiety, anger, frustration and confusion. The same can happen when those around us switch lanes suddenly.
We often feel the boiling energy of road rage when another car makes a sudden change that affects our path. They slow down or speed up, ride too close, swerve in our lane, cut us off, or fail to move when the light turns green.
Now imagine your career path like a highway. Multiple lanes make up your organizational structure or even your industry. Some drivers speed in the left lane, passing others. If they go too fast or are reckless, an obstacle is bound to send them spinning off course.
Some hit cruise control in the right lane, contently driving the speed limit. Some speed up or slow down and change lanes for their own benefit. And still others know exactly when to speed up, when to use turn signals and when to hit cruise control.
Back to my story of getting flipped off. I was on cruise control in the left lane while someone else had another agenda. From his perspective, I was in the wrong lane and prevented him from moving forward. He was frustrated when there wasn’t an obvious way around me.
In the Driver’s Seat
Have you been on this career highway? Someone stands in your way of that big promotion or forward progress and you have a hard time seeing around them. How can you progress when someone else sits in the decision chair, or takes the role you were hoping for?
Just like driving, flipping them the bird probably isn’t going to help the situation, even if it feels damned good at the moment. It’s likely they aren’t even aware of the obstacle they created for you. Perhaps they would prefer to get out of the way, but other factors prevent it from happening.
What’s the best way to navigate these situations? Well, the good news is you aren’t stuck in a moving vehicle with only horns and hand signals to communicate. Whether you’re the manager or the admin, you can avoid major traffic jams and accidents by finding the best way to communicate concerns. I like Kim Scott’s Radical Candor model:
It isn’t a matter of staying in your lane, it’s knowing when and how to smoothly change without disrupting the flow of traffic. While it may not be the right time for lane changing, you can look out over the horizon to anticipate traffic patterns and opportunities.
No matter what, keep moving forward.
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