Q I like to be able to plan ahead, and that's been how I've been able to be successful at work. Lately my client has been throwing a lot of surprises my way. It really disrupts my work and I have been getting frustrated and angry. What can I do to get him to give me more lead time when he needs something?
A You may be able to influence him, but some of it may be outside his control. Your best bet is to manage your reactions and find a way to become more adaptable.
The inner game
Change is difficult, and it sounds like you're dealing with both frequent day-to-day changes as well as a change in your client's expectations. Figuring out how to handle it is best done with a cool head, so take some time to let go of your frustration so it doesn't get in your way. Find a peaceful environment and focus on your breathing until you feel more centered.
Start by taking your client's perspective. What do you know about the expectations in his workplace? He may have a new boss who throws curves his way, be on a new project or just be overworked and unable to plan ahead as well as he used to. What would you want if you were him?
Now, consider the frequency and nature of the changes. Sometimes there are aspects that can be anticipated, so think about whether you could pre-emptively avoid some changes.
As a planner by nature, adjustments will be harder for you. However, to be fully rounded, adaptability is also important. Think about ways in which you've successfully adapted on the fly. Challenge yourself to envision the benefits of spontaneity to move to a more flexible stance.
Finally, consider other emotional responses besides anger and frustration. "If I weren't angry, I would be. ..." Resolved? Accepting? This is within your control, acknowledging that changing your response will take practice.
The outer game
Assuming that you have a goal of successful partnership with your client, communication will be key. If you have regular status meetings, use one to ask if there have been some changes that you should know about. It's appropriate to point out that there have been more last-minute requests and changes, and ask to discuss this so that you can provide the best possible service. Also, set up a process with him to get help prioritizing if needed. It's much better to think these things through when you aren't in the heat of the moment.
Your self-management tools come next. In terms of emotional reaction, identify some stress-lowering tactics you could use -- humor, a quick walk, a brief venting or some deep breathing. Use these to prevent anger or frustration from dominating.
In terms of practical steps, use your planning skills to plan for the unexpected. Build some cushion into your daily schedule, or have in mind ways you could flex your work to adapt to changes.
The last word
Use your skills and manage your emotions so that you can have a positive work environment while giving your client good service.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.