How To Overcome Self-Sabotage

“It’s good to be confident but not so confident you always think you’re right — that’s arrogance; it’s good to be humble, but it’s not good to be so humble that you’re discrediting yourself — that’s insecurity.” Anon

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Self-sabotage is the action or inaction we take to get in our own way, stopping ourselves from achieving our own best intentions and goals. The stories we tell ourselves and our inner voices contribute to our self-sabotage.

Donal’s Story Self-Sabotaging His Own Meetings: A Case Study:

Donal’s reputation for running productive meetings was bad. Why? Well, because they were bad. He had never been taught how to run a productive meeting, he was thrown in at the deep end, and left to sink or swim. He sank, he was simply way out of his depth. He knew it, and everyone else knew it too, and that didn’t help, because people played on his lack of ability.

They turned up if they felt like it, and when they did it was always late, and usually only if they had an agenda of their own. They knew how easy it would be to lead Donal into sabotaging the meeting, by losing control, at which point they’d loudly voice what they wanted, causing complete disruption, which they knew Donal would not be able to manage. And whether or not they got what they wanted, they at least got it across; and once it was presented once, it was easier to get it on the next agenda, simply because it would be referenced in the notes to be followed up on. It was a tough environment and people played tough, or actually they played dirty.

Donal had gotten off to a bad start by sabotaging himself by not asking for help. He felt that there was an expectation that he should automatically know how to run a good meeting. He didn’t, but because he perceived this to be an expectation, he was too embarrassed to say he didn’t know how to run a meeting, and to ask for help.

It came to a head as more and more people were saying: “This was brought up at the last meeting (what they wanted), it’s been documented, and it needs to be discussed further, and therefore is an item to go on the agenda for the next meeting.” It was getting completely out of control, and nobody knew what was going on.

Recognising Donal was completely out of his depth, his colleague and friend, Sarah suggested they take a walk during their lunch hour, to see if there was anything she could do to help out. Sarah had a reputation for running good meetings; but as with Donal, she too had struggled when she first ran them.

This had been at her previous company, and she had been fortunate that her manager, Abi, had reacted quickly when she saw she was out of her depth, taking Sarah aside, and working with her to help her get up to speed with what was required to run a good meeting. She had helped Sarah to save face, something she was really grateful for; and in seeing Donal in the same place she had been, she wanted to share what she had learnt from Abi with him, to help him save face, and to help him to stop sabotaging himself — something else that she recognised he was doing, and which she had done too.

As they walked Sarah shared what she saw was happening, that was causing things to get out of control, which in turn was adding to Donal’s self-sabotage. She also shared how he could regain control, in a way that would allow him to manage the meetings effectively, which in turn would stop him from sabotaging himself.

Sarah told Donal that to achieve this, he simply needed to follow these three steps:

Step One: Document Decisions

The immediate problem as Sarah saw it, was that there were a number of loud voices at the end of the meeting, getting their point across, followed by them saying something along the lines of: “It sounds like we’ve come to a decision of what needs to be discussed at the next meeting.” And in so doing, they were ensuring it got on the agenda — their agenda. But the truth is, no-one was clear what has been decided.

Sarah went on to say to Donal:

“As the person running the meeting, you and only you get to say what has been decided to be discussed at the next meeting. There is no ‘We’, and people need to know that. You can do that by simply and firmly saying: This is the decision I believe we’ve made. Is my understanding accurate? Can someone else confirm the decision, to ensure we have the same understanding, and for the record?”

Sarah went on to say:

“You then need to pin down what the next steps are. Actual next steps need to be captured and articulated, and the responsibility to follow through assigned to someone.”

She finished by saying:

“In doing that, everyone will be clear walking out of the meeting, what was discussed and agreed upon, and who is responsible for the next steps. This then needs to be documented and circulated to everyone involved, soon after the meeting, and included in the agenda for the next meeting.”

Step Two: Inviting People

Sarah Continued:

“The right people, and the right number of people, need to be invited to the meeting. This requires thought, because it’s too easy to invite the wrong people and too many people, which means it will become a free-for-all. You need to be firm with whoever has asked you to run the meeting about who needs to be there.

Once that’s decided, the only acceptable reasons for people to decline or not turn up are if they’re out of the office, unwell, or already booked. Turning up late is simply not acceptable. Everybody needs to take responsibility for themselves, and they need to know that in not doing so, they’re letting themselves, their colleagues and the company down. You need to state this firmly and you need the support of whoever asked you to run the meeting to ensure this is taken seriously. The most productive meetings are the meetings where the right people, and the right number of people, are in attendance.

It’s also important that these people bring the right information to the room. To ensure this happens, you need to check in ahead of the meeting, that people know what is required of them. You can do this by simply referring them to the notes from the last meeting. The responsibility to bring what is required of them is on them.”

Step Three: Taking Good Notes

Sarah finished by saying:

“The notes from the previous meeting will give them the clarity they need in knowing what is required from them to bring to the next meeting, and of course any actions required of them, if any of the next steps requires input from them. The notes don’t need to be long and detailed, but they also shouldn’t be random bullet points. A few bullet points that outline the decision taken, and the next steps, are sufficient.”

Sarah then worked with Donal to help him to become confident with these three steps. It required him to be firm in asking for what he needed ahead of each meeting with regard to knowing who to invite. Then during the meeting saying what needed to be said, firmly and succinctly. He rehearsed this with Sarah, and she would challenge him by being loud and obstructive, which helped him work to remain calm, while having a strong presence. He followed the meeting by sending brief notes that communicated what was decided, and what was required from people; sending an even briefer reminder ahead of the meeting, to ensure people took responsibility for themselves. Doing all of this stopped his self-sabotage, and in an environment that was tough, he too learnt to be tough, and he achieved this by never playing dirty.

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

Taking a long hard look at how you are self-sabotaging is both insightful and painful. It requires you to look in the mirror at who you are, and what you do that at its worse is destructive or at its best slowing you down, preventing you from fully being who you should be.

Donal’s story is one of the stories featured in my book: How To Overcome Self-Sabotage, from The School Of WorkLife Book Series.

The stories I write are based on real WorkLife challenges, obstacles and successes. In some stories I share my own experiences, and with permission stories of people I’ve worked with, whose names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Other persons and companies portrayed in the stories are not based on real people or entities.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly: WorkLife Learning Practitioner & Writer Author of WorkLife Book Club, Your WorkLife Your Way and The School of WorkLife book series. Created to help you manage your WorkLife Learning. Blogger & Podcaster: Telling people’s powerful stories about WorkLife challenges & successes Founder of My guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.