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Are You Tired of Being Tired at Work?

Try Getting Out of “the Middle”

A Tired Bulldog Who Spent Too Much Time "In the Middle"
A Tired Bulldog Who Spent Too Much Time “In the Middle”

Being “In the Middle” is One Reason You’re Tired at Work

Chances are — if you’re reading this, there are many people pushing and pulling on you at work. If that’s true, I bet you often end up feeling stretched and “torn” by conflicting requests. Although you try, you can’t deliver results on what you’re asked to do or make happen. Sadly, this leaves you often feeling under-appreciated as well as powerless. You want to help, get important things done and make people happy. However, no matter how hard you try or how long you work, it’s rarely enough. Consequently, YOU are unhappy, and oh, so, tired. Welcome to the world of being a Middle who is IN the middle.

A Systems Lens Illuminates the World of Being a Middle

We live in a world of different “systems.” Examples of systems include for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Schools, churches, community groups and families are also examples of systems we all live and work in. In system life, there are four roles. . . Top, Bottom, Middle and Customer. The person in charge is a Top. The “hands on” work of the system is performed by Bottoms. Customers buy products and services developed and delivered by the system. Middles are the glue and connector for “everything, everywhere, all at once”* that happens within the system. Each of us functions in the four roles in the different systems that we work and live within. Sometimes you’re a Top, sometimes a Bottom, sometimes a Middle and sometimes a Customer. We also find ourselves in these four roles in our non-work life.

Being IN the Middle is a Choice, Not a Given

However, sliding into the middle of other people’s business does not feel like a choice we are making. It’s more like a reflex response –like the one we have when a doctor hits our kneecap with a small hammer. We don’t think about it; it just happens. Because of the nature of work typically done by Middles (think Middle Managers, Project Managers and front-line Supervisors), they regularly wear themselves out trying to keep everything running smoothly and everyone satisfied. However, regardless of our official role as a Top, Bottom, Middle or Customer, we all inevitably find ourselves “in the middle” of other people’s business.

How Does This Happen and Why?

Although being “in the middle” is a choice, not a given, most of us are largely unaware of how we end up there. The cost of this choice to us personally and to the system becomes clearer as we wear ourselves out trying to fix or solve problems that are not really ours. Some of us end up there because we have good intentions. Other people end up “in the middle” because they tend to be people-pleasers who have difficulty with boundaries and saying no. For some, being in the middle feels like job security. Going back and forth between people makes them feel useful and necessary. These are all valid reasons AND they are largely disempowering to everyone involved.

Five Strategies for Getting Yourself Out of the Middle

  • When needed, step into a leadership role. Be courageous and act like a Top instead of asking for permission on every decision point you face.
  • Recognize that sometimes you will need to communicate unpopular information to other people within the system. Share what you know in a neutral, respectful and direct way. Be unafraid to engage using Straight Talk with people in all roles within the system.
  • Develop your coaching skills. Use them to help others become competent and confident with addressing their conflicts and problems directly.
  • Stop acting as the go-between for people who need to be speaking with one another directly. Instead, adopt the practice of bringing together people who have something to communicate and/or resolve with one another. Facilitate a conversation that supports people’s ability to sort out their issues without you being “in the middle”.
  • Develop a regular habit of sharing information about the system with others who, like you, are working to gracefully and skillfully get out of the middle of other people’s business.

Learning to get out of the middle may be harder than you think. For me, the truth is that we get into the middle because in some way, we get something from it. Still, the end result of being and staying in the middle of other people’s “stuff” is that we end up exhausted. We also end up not being able to focus our attention on what it is that matters most to us. If you’re tired of being tired at work, it’s time to make a change. Try out these five strategies. I believe you’ll find that you’re happier, more productive, more effective and more respected. Your relationships with others will also likely be stronger and healthier.

What’s not to like about that?

Ginger Ward-Green

Adapted from the work of Barry Oshry

*with credit to the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once

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