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Ramona, a senior engineer in a midsize software company, was talking with João, her coach.

“I’ve been thinking about our last few conversations,” she said. “How I have to tell people what’s going on with me, then ask for help.”

João nodded. “I’m all ears,” he said encouragingly.

“I bet I know what my third responsibility is,” Ramona continued.

“Do tell,” João said with a smile.

“I still need to fulfill my responsibilities,” Ramona proposed.

“Tell me more,” João requested.

Speak up the moment you suspect you can’t complete your work

“Well, work is the simplest example,” Ramona said. “I’ve talked with my team about everything I’m dealing with. They all understand now why I’ve been pretty quiet in our meetings. Especially when we talk about these looming deadlines.”

“And what effect has that had on you?” João inquired.

“I feel a lot less stressed about getting everything done. I know they aren’t judging me for leaving work earlier than many of them.”

“That’s great to hear,” João said. “Anything else?”

“It seems kind of weird,” Ramona said. “Knowing I have their support makes me not want to let them down.”

“So, knowing they have your back makes you want to have theirs in return?” João paraphrased.

“That’s exactly right,” Ramona confirmed.

“What does having their back mean for you?” João inquired.

“Completing the work I signed up to do,” Ramona said immediately.

“You had been concerned you wouldn’t be able to get it all done,” João remembered. “Has that changed?”

“No,” Ramona said. “Which brings me to the other part of having their back: speaking up loudly and clearly the moment I suspect something might slip.”

“So, your team knows you’re working at a lower capacity. You’re doing everything possible to take care of everything you agreed to complete. And, when you start feeling that may not be possible, you let your team know right away,” João summarized.

“That’s exactly it,” Ramona confirmed.

Find alternative approaches that bypass blockers

“How does this play out with your parents and your sister?” João asked. “Their wedding anniversary is just around the corner now, right?”

“It is,” Ramona confirmed. “This has all gone over my parents’ heads. They nod and thank me for letting them know. And I can tell they don’t really get it. I’m used to that from them.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” João consoled. “How about with your sister?”

“That went much better,” Ramona said. “With her, the constant context switching was tripping me up.”

“Context switching?” João inquired.

“Context switching,” Ramona affirmed. “Every new text from her—one every five minutes, I sometimes felt—I’d stop, answer her question, then switch back to what I had been doing.”

“That’s a lot of context switching,” João agreed.

“So, I suggested we take a different approach,” Ramona continued. “Now we have a meeting scheduled every day. My sister gets to ask all her questions. I get to give her all my attention and focus. And, we set up a separate meeting right after where party planning-related topics are forbidden.”

“How’s that working out for you?” João queried.

“Great,” Ramona proclaimed. “We both feel less stressed. Me from eliminating all those interruptions. My sister because she can now count on my full attention while we talk. My other work is making better progress now, too.”

“Any downsides?” João asked.

“Well, it’s funny,” Ramona replied. “I’m probably actually spending more time with her now than I was before. Since it’s all in one chunk now, though, it seems much less work.”

“Eliminating all those context switches made a big difference,” João noted.

“It sure did,” Ramona confirmed happily. “I’m better fulfilling my responsibilities with my sister and everyone else.”

Explain what’s going on and ask for help

“So, that leaves your best friend,” João said.

“That’s been going great,” Ramona asserted. “Everything feels easeful now. We each are dealing with a lot. We’re asking each other for help. We’re being the friends each wants and needs the other to be.”

“I’m happy that’s working out for you,” João said. “Is there anything there you’d like to discuss further?”

“There is one thing,” Ramona said. “Sometimes, I just can’t concentrate on what she’s saying.”

“What’s going on for you when that happens?” João inquired.

“I’m distracted,” Ramona explained. “I go back to a question my sister asked me. Or, I have an idea for a shortcut we can take at work. Or I’m too tired to focus.”

“So, sometimes your ‘work’ with your friend starts to slip?” João reframed.

“Yeah,” Ramona declared. “That’s a good way to put it.”

“Oh,” Ramona said. “That means…” she trailed off as she thought this over.

“Well. I can just do with my friend what I’m already doing with my team,” Ramona realized.

“With my team,” she continued, “I’m being extra careful to raise any potential problems or delays the moment I suspect one might be approaching. With my friend, I just need to do the same.”

“Will you tell your friend the same way you tell your team?” João inquired.

“No,” Ramona replied. “With my friend, I’m embarrassed that I cannot be present with her. That’s not generally the problem with my team.”

“That makes sense,” João said.

“So, I just need to tell my friend that,” Ramona concluded. “’I’m embarrassed, but I cannot focus on being present with you right now.’ Then, ask her for what I need.”

“Hey, my first and second responsibilities are coming up again,” Ramona noticed with a laugh. “With my friend, especially, telling her what’s going on for me and asking for help are part of what I signed up to do.”

You are responsible for fulfilling your responsibilities

“Let me run through everything I’ve learned today,” Ramona requested.

“After telling people what’s going on with me, then asking for help, I need to show up and do what I signed up to do,” Ramona started.

“Part of doing that is speaking up as soon as I realize I might not complete what I said I would,” she continued.

“Another part is bypassing and working around anything preventing me from doing any of this,” she added.

“Which, sometimes, means telling people what’s going on with me and then asking for help,” she wrapped up with a grin.

“Nicely summarized,” João complimented.

“Thanks,” Ramona said with pleasure.

“So, we’re on to a new topic next time?” she asked.

“We can always talk about whatever’s top of mind for you, regardless of what we had planned,” João reminded her. “However, if you’re up for one more conversation, you have one more responsibility.”

“I do?” Ramona asked. “Hmm. Now I will be puzzling over this until our next session.”

“Have fun with that,” João said with a grin. “See you then.”

“See you then,” Ramona agreed.

This is part three of a series:

Part 1: Your first responsibility: Tell people what’s going on for you

Part 2: Your second responsibility: Ask for help

Part 3: Your third responsibility: Fulfill your responsibilities

Part 4: Your fourth responsibility: Do what feels right

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