How to Keep the Monkey Off Your Back

CaptureI work from home. I’d say on average someone knocks on my door twice per day. And you know what, they are never looking to do some of my work for me for free nor are they trying to give me some of their money. I’ve stopped answering the door now. They knock again. They can see my car. They know I’m in.

There’s a game a lot of people play in life and work. They have a monkey on their back and the monkey is irritating them. So they try to give it to you. They come in to your office and they try to get their monkey to jump onto your back. The rookie manager falls for this every time and she takes the monkey from the poor employee because she thinks that helping them is her job. (Well it is but not like that.) So she ends up sitting in her office at 5pm with six or seven monkeys on her back, wondering where the day went, with another two hours in front of her as she watches her unburdened monkey-less colleagues walk across the car park to their cars…

This image of monkeys helped me greatly when I had people to manage.

Whenever someone came in to my office I envisaged the monkey on their back and I was pretty determined that nine times out of ten it would stay there. This really helps with honing your coaching skills, and the coaching manager is the most effective outside of times of great crisis.

But we need to be on guard, because some of the people with monkeys have got a bit smarter these days. They are not so direct. They will disguise their monkey and send it to you in the form of an email. Or they will phone you.

So today, beware of other people’s monkeys and when someone tries to give you their monkey, the process is always the same…

1. Ask them to describe their monkey, how it is irritating them and what a better situation would look like,

2. Ask them what options they have to achieve this better situation,

3. Ask them what they’re going to do,

4. Invite them to come back and tell you how it went.

You may recognise this as the GROW coaching model, I won’t decode the acronym for you as it’s a bit laboured, but essentially it’s define goal, assess options, take action. This is what you get the person with the monkey to do.

Then you can watch them leave with their monkey. And you will have helped them although some may not see it that way.

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