The Responsibility Process Sidetrack: I Quit!

This text series goes through the model presented in Christopher Avery’s book The Responsibility Process. According to that model every person takes certain mental steps when they encounter adversity or problems. These steps are lay blamejustifyshame, obligation and responsibility.

The purpose of this series is to introduce the different steps and guide towards responsibility. And also to consider what use this all could have from the point of view of a technical expert. Further background for this series is found here and here you can find the previous parts:

We need an escape from all the pressure

Blaming, explaining and justifying makes us get off the hook, the fault is not ours. Of course, when the fault is outside of us, we can’t get rid of the situation. We don’t, however, feel the pressure we would, if the fault was in ourselves, either. For this reason we might go on blaming others and the situation for a rather long time.

Shame and obligation, on the contrary, suffocate us and cause anxiety, frustration and exhaustion. The shame burns our poor souls and the obligation puts weight on our shoulders. Sometimes these feelings might grow so insurmountable, that we need a way out.

Instead of responsibility we often choose quitting as an escape

We might choose giving up or quitting as our way out. When we mentally quit, we embrace the attitude of ”whatever”. We move the problem aside or just don’t care about it anymore. We hope that it will pass or disappear on its own. Or we literally walk out (of the project, clientship, team, job or relationship) only to find ourselves in the same situation again later.

Once we have given up, we aren’t completely present in the situation. We shamble forward as indifferent zombies from one moment to another. Having given up we think we have removed the problem from our schedule, but, in fact, it is only on hold waiting to come back and suck all the joy and energy out of us. And when we do wake up from the zombie mode, we end up right back in shame or obligation.

Through the test case into the core of giving up

Let’s get back to the example where there is a bug in production, and it has broken the checkout page of the client’s online store. The client is shouting, the PM is putting pressure on you and you are the head of testing in the project. You have first blamed the others, then the circumstances, then felt shame and finally ended up in obligation. You have come to the conclusion that you have to work more, do more tests and lengthen the day before bringing new stuff to production so that this will never, ever happen again.

Then the new sprint comes and again there is a bug in production. You reach amazing heights with your performance, and everything is fine for a while until something happens again. Finally, you start to get tired of working more and more, you carry an awful responsibility of the outcome and yet you keep on finding yourself in the situation where someone is always unhappy.

At some point the pressure, workload and constant mental beating of yourself become so unbearable, that you give up. You start to look for another job elsewhere. Or you just let everything go. It doesn’t matter how much you have worked. If this will always be the outcome, there is no point. You turn the screensaver mode on, drag yourself to work to do your job and when a problem occurs, you sit in the meeting room with a careless expression on your face. You just don’t care anymore.

We hide behind giving up, when we don’t know how to create the result we really wish for.

Instead of giving up head towards responsibility

In his book Avery teaches a question, with which we get to take a closer look at our own quitting. Avery suggests that we should face our own thinking straight and with empathy, asking: “What new information or realization do I need so that I can find out what I really want in this situation, and to make it happen?”

Through this question our brains start to work and look for a way toward responsibility.

In which problem, challenge or situation have you given up? Which situation do you walk into thinking that you will struggle through it and soon it will be over? Besides the visits to the dentist, there are surprisingly many occasions in our lives, when we no longer want to nor care.

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TL;DR: On the sidetrack of responsibility we give up or quit

  • If the shame and obligation become too heavy to bear, we might give up or quit.
  • Giving up means that we no longer care, we move the problem aside and hope that it will be resolved on its own.
  • A person who has given up is not actively present, doesn’t speak her own truth, doesn’t pursue forward but simply endures and tolerates the situation.
  • You get out of giving up by noticing the symptoms: indifference, enduring, absent-mindedness, mental screen saver.
  • After that you can ask yourself: ”What new information or realization do I need, to find out what I really want and how to make it happen?
  • This question starts to activate our thinking toward responsibility.

Or what do you think?

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