Periodically, every one of us starts finding a team-member or friend irksome. But it is more than that. We start seeing them in a different –far more negative — light. Everything they do is wrong. We can’t stop ourselves. Is anyone immune to this phenomenon? If so, I haven’t met them.

Of course, this is hardly confined to organizations. It may even be more common in our personal lives. We do it with out children, parent, spouses –and, like me—our closest friends.

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Here’s a brief story to illustrate how this often goes.

The Best Friend

My best friend (we met as teenagers) lives about 5 hours away from me. Lately, she comes to town regularly, and stays with me when here (at my invitation). We are very different from each other. Some might say that I am rather regimented — rigid. My life thrives on routine –and my house reflects that.

My friend doesn’t keep a calendar or a schedule. Neither are her belongings ordered. As soon as she arrives there is an explosion of stuff: Clothing, cases, her own pillows and blanket. There are always cups in various states of fullness –all on different surfaces. Even my fridge became disordered. And her habits seem to me chaotic.

On one of her longer visits, I became annoyed. I couldn’t shake it. Every time she would get a cup of tea my irritation would radiate into the shared atmosphere –there was no need for me to speak. She could feel my simmering accusations. I can’t quite describe it, but my guess is you recognize what I mean.
In short, I was delighted she was there because I love being around her. But I was also ready to kill her every time she breathed.

I’m not unique. My friend (yes, the self-same) has told me she often feels that way toward her roommate.

It Happens to Everyone

Something has got a hold of us and we can’t stop. When we are in this state of mind, our fault-finding becomes intrusive and all-consuming. Is this just the human condition?

My clients go through similar periods. Despite being excited about a new hire, after a while, they start seeing things that bug them.  It happens more and more frequently until all they can see are flaws in an employee who is otherwise valuable and valued.

A non-stop internal campaign of fault-finding can explode out of nowhere, prompted by a single moment or irritation.
Most of us think that we have the capacity to be opaque — to hide our inner feelings. That may be true for your secret crush on Dua Lipa, but it is NOT true about your persistent annoyance. Our internal experiences seep out in our being.  Other people can feel and recognize those “vibes” –and they behave in tandem with what they perceive.

Killing the Vibe

This creates tension. Perhaps more importantly the targeted employee can sense the disapproval and judgement. When someone is within a miasma of disapproval, they can lose confidence, self-reliance, and accountability. Think about it: If it seems like everything you do triggers your boss’ seething you’ll avoid that experience.  The rational way to do that is by putting your name on NOTHING. Say goodbye to proactiveness, creativity and ownership.

If you are a leader caught in this cycle, how do you stop? Is there a way to unhook yourself from whatever activated this fault-finding binge? It is costing so much!

When we are trapped in this cycle there is a very distasteful way in which we can enjoy it. We get the satisfaction of feeling self-righteous and superior. Of course, couched like that it hardly seems pleasurable.

You Feel Possessed

The first thing to do if you want to break the spell is to recognize that the fault finding is your issue. Despite your internal monologue, it is not about the team-member’s performance or your entire team or the way she doesn’t indent on emails, or her asking too many questions in meetings or any other thing you think is worth correcting.

It is a different thing to have a genuinely under-performing employee.  If you do, you should follow all the appropriate HR procedures to handle it.

But this pervasive fault-finding tends to occur about employees who are performing. Perhaps they have stylistic differences from you. Most often it happens regarding people you otherwise think are terrific, but who for some reason, you cannot stop finding fault with.

It’s Not You –It’s Your Interpretation

This is YOUR issue, not theirs. Own it.  My irritation with my friend has to do with me and my mind –NOT with her.  Yet she could certainly feel my perpetual anger.  As a result, she was walking on eggshells and trying not to annoy me.  If you find yourself being annoyed from the instant you see someone or hear their name –the problem is YOU.

From that standpoint the world will line up to confirm your position. Incredibly, evidence will pre-sort itself into things that affirm your beliefs.

We always see through some lens but the lens varies. It’s possible to choose a new lens. (Click to Tweet)

Here, the filter is one of our being right and their being wrong!  No one is immune from the reality that their perception depends on the lens through which they view the world. And in this case the filter is intended to reinforce the fault-finding. If you can unravel the Gordian knot of the filter you have and reality, you may find relief from the nit-picking in your head. That’s because it is our own lens of perception that’s casting a negative tint.

The Choice is Yours

You have a choice of which filter to apply. You can view their behavior through your commitment to their growth and development – and the value they bring to the organization — or you can keep holding onto the filter that affirms your irritation.

This is hard work. It takes rigor and genuine integrity to distinguish your own perspective from the facts before you. It means separating out your own ego.  It’s worthwhile; especially if are the leader of a team you want to thrive and produce unprecedented results.

These little quirks of our humanity are part of the complicated human puzzle. At times, they can act as snipers, taking pot shots at us. They can damage our families, and friendships.

So, if you are currently finding fault with someone in your life or work, take a step back. Look and see who owns the lens on your experience. Spoiler alert: it’s you. The funny thing is, almost as soon as you alter your perspective, THEY appear to change.

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