Leaders Help People Tolerate the Intolerable

A recent question: “How do you tolerate intolerable situations or people?”

One of the toughest choices at work is to figure out which issues are worth addressing and which to simply live with. There is no black and white solution to these types of situations. It requires some discernment, because everyone has a different tolerance level and there’s a lot of variance within the situations themselves. That being said, no situation is perfect and the grass isn’t greener on the other side. We all have to deal with imperfect situations and people everywhere. Humility and empathy can be coping mechanisms for this, because we’re not perfect either.

The go-to “fix” for intolerable situations or people is discussing the issue with others. Talking about issues is okay, because it it can lead to a solution. But—

Watch out for gossiping or complaining on your part.

Complaining or gossiping is a waste of time and a morale drain. Solutions aren’t found while doing either of those things. In fact, they are more likely to create new problems.

So, when dealing with an intolerable situation or person,

You have three basic choices:

  1. Talk directly to the person creating the issue, or to someone who can do something about the issue.
  2. Develop a work-around for the issue.
  3. Make the conscious decision to live with it, acknowledging that no situation is perfect, and consider whether or not living with the current situation is worth it in the long term.

Here’s what these choices might look like in two real-world scenarios:

(The first issue is terrible chairs that hurt your back. The second is a co-worker who is late on deliverables.)

1. Talk directly to the person.

  • “Hey boss, can we put another $2000 in the budget for better chairs next year?”
  • “Say, Paige, would you please aim to get me those inputs sooner on the next project? Is there anything I can do on my end to make that easier?”

2. Develop a work-around.

  • Spend $30 of your own money on one of those beaded chair backs until new chairs are added to the budget.
  • Re-set project deadlines to ensure that you get what you need on time, and systematize reminders.

3. Decide to live with it.

  • Stand more during work. Get your resume in order or look for other positions within the company where the conditions are better.
  • Live with the fallout of the occasional missed deadlines. Get your resume in order or look for other positions within the company where the conditions are better.

Remember that mindfulness is a key component to intolerable situations.

Ask yourself: How is this really making me feel? Is it really as big as I make it? Is there anything I’ve done to contribute to the issue?

Also, consider how bad it has to be before you tell your boss about an intolerable co-worker. There’s no pat answer to that question, but know that every boss wants to know that you’ve done everything possible before you bring the issue to them, so consider some options before you resort to that.

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