When something happens, you choose what you make it mean to you, and what you believe about it. From those choices comes how you feel about it. Then you choose what you say or don’t say in response.  And finally, you decide what action you take. These four choices belong to you, you are responsible for them.

Just as you have these powers to choose how you respond, so does everyone else. They have their four choices too; what they believe, feel, say and do. They are responsible for their beliefs, emotions, words and actions. You are responsible for yours.

What happens when you try to be responsible for other people’s powers?

First of all – good luck with that – it’s impossible, unless of course they give their powers away and are happy to make you responsible for them. This sometimes happens in relationships (that’s another story) – and in the workplace.

Trying to take responsible for others in the workplace usually results in two outcomes:

1. They like it.Some people are happy to hand their power over to you so they can blame you for their happiness / misery / short comings. They are happy to play the victim when it benefits them. They may come to rely on you to ‘cheer them up’ or ‘motivate’ them. This is often experienced as exhausting for the ‘over responsible’ person.

2. They don’t like it. They experience you as nosey, bossy, condescending, even a bully. If you are their manager, they may believe you are micro-managing them. They may feel you are sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong. They don’t want a ‘Mum’ at work. They may end up resenting you – even though your intention is to help. They don’t want or need your help.

What’s the Solution?

The solution is being clear that while you are responsible for your beliefs, feelings, words and actions, you are NEVER responsible for your colleagues’ beliefs, feelings, words and actions- they are. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about your colleagues, or you can treat your colleagues badly, or act like a bully. Because while you are not responsible FOR their beliefs, feelings, words and actions – you have a responsibility TO treat people with respect and care. You have a responsibility to behave in accordance with the professional guidelines of your organisation.

You have a responsibility TO your colleagues – however you are not responsible FOR their choices, an important distinction.


Being OVER Responsible at work could drive you crazy (and your colleagues).

I asked 150 people what their colleagues did that really pushed their buttons.  It is interesting to consider the results through the lens of Responsibility TO and FOR.


Let’s consider some Workplace examples:

Dianne, a General Manager in a large organizing believed her job was to ‘make everyone happy’. She exhausted herself to the point of burning out.  She learnt while she had a responsibility TO her staff, she was not responsible FOR her employees’ happiness.

Lisa, found herself annoyed every morning when her colleague came in 5-10 minutes. She let her manager know, and ‘the manager did nothing about it’. Lisa realized she had taken all the action she could, and the issue was no longer her responsibility. She learnt to just observe her colleague coming in late without having an emotional reaction to it every morning.

Be responsible for your powers. Check in with yourself that you are not trying to be responsible for your colleagues’ powers.

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