Leveraging the Power of Strategic Patience

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Learn the practical wisdom and positive use of patience to enhance your daily life says Sarah Richson

Patience suggests waiting, and while this seems demoralizing, I defend it. In certain situations, and for people developing their emotional intelligence, it has huge benefits.

We all face three types of problems:

  • Problems we can solve immediately
  • Problems we can only solve with time
  • Problems we can never, ever solve

I would like to provide a valuable approach that can help us deal with the second type of problem, the type that requires time.  This specific problem is the type that also benefits from the approach of strategic patience.  There are often many reasons why we might require more time or strategic patience: we may need more skill, knowledge or experience to solve a problem.  Sometimes we need to find the right people or more brains to think through solutions.  Sometimes we may be feeling vulnerable due to other pressures and priorities in life.   Sometimes we just need to go through the process… however long it takes.

The dictionary describes patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious”. Synonyms for the word patience include self-restraint, fortitude and endurance.  In everyday life, we need to exercise patience for various reasons. As we walk the journey of emotional intelligence we need to learn the practical wisdom and positive use of patience to enhance our daily lives. This approach can also add real value to the self-development of the Executive Assistant whose strength in character is just as important as cognitive intelligence and practical know-how.

Strategic patience and career growth

My years of experience in hiring and promoting top talent have demonstrated the true value of the notion of strategic patience, therefore today as a career coach I encourage my clients to understand and use this very effective approach.  Most of us were brought up on the message that career growth is about taking career steps in a certain ‘magical’ formula:

Step 1: Go to school

Step 2: Pass exams

Step 3: Apply for a well-paying job, (preferably) in an established company

Step 4: Grow from the entry-level position, to become the supervisor of a team, then to possibly supervising more teams as a manager.  Continue climbing the steps, if you wish, all the way up to becoming head of the institution.

We are taught that you need to earn a certain amount of salary when you begin your career and then at the end of each year during your performance appraisal your salary will automatically be increased. And if the salary is not increased then you can look elsewhere for a job that will pay you more; and that with such increments comes your career growth.

In modern research, salary, although still considered important, has ceased to lead when it comes to motivating people to perform.  It has been overtaken by cultural factors such as appreciation, personal development, life-work balance and relationships between team members.  This finding has contributed to a rising conundrum in the area of career trajectories.  Take for instance Executive Assistants with similar IQs, who graduate from the same class with honours in the same year.  They get the same entry level job but later things seem to change.  One rises up the career ladder faster and earns more money by the age of 30 than the other. Why?

In speaking to many people about their career growth, I have found that most begin their career believing that money is the indicator of successful career growth.  For example, when given two job offers for – one with more responsibility and less cash, and the other with more cash but little responsibility – most people would choose the latter. They do realize that the lack of patience and dealing with growing responsibility could challenge them to up-skill, upscale and grow faster than the counterpart who is already earning so much money but losing out on the opportunity for growth.

As an Executive Assistant, when you get an opportunity to join a digital transformation project or community youth mentorship project, please do not run and check your job description to see if this is part of your official duties, or request extra pay! When you’re given responsibility very early in your career that is an indicator to future employers that people tend to trust your decisions or value your ability to enhance other people’s productivity.  This may lead them to engage you on high-level work, ask your opinion on serious matters and most times this pushes you to discover untapped potential quite early. Remember, all this could be happening yet the salary you’re taking home is not equivalent to the responsibility you’re taking on. My advice is exercise strategic patience and do not always think of jumping ship simply because of financial currency… growth is a more sustainable currency with longer-term benefits.

Managing objection through strategic patience

The world is so engrossed with speed and a “microwave mentality” that sometimes we overlook the power of strategic patience when communicating with others.  We forget the importance of speaking last, watching and observing in silence, listening to understand and not to respond, or understanding the difference between a knee-jerk reaction to a comment and an effective response to a situation.  We forget the importance of listening to others’ opinions in order to be considerate and make statements that add value.

When working with other teams in the organization, it is very important for the Executive Assistant to learn to manage objection using strategic patience. Please note, not every objection has to be responded to immediately. People with higher levels of emotional intelligence understand the importance of picking up sensitive cues including body language, facial expression, eye movement and energy within the room as they engage in verbal and nonverbal communication. Sometimes it is better to simply respond to objection by thanking the individual and ask them to give you time to sleep on the matter.

We have all received that email that makes your blood boil! Or met that person who interrupts rudely or points fingers (literally) in meetings and whose sentences begin with ‘but, but, but’.  Many times, dealing with conflict becomes difficult simply because somebody fails to manage objection effectively.  Most people do not like objections. It is important for the savvy EA to learn not to react too quickly, especially when your internal temperature is rising and you cannot accurately identify, or appropriately manage, what it is you are feeling at that moment. Patiently watching and using good questioning skills can help you unveil, unpack and see exactly where you can meet the other person, and chart a way forward.

One of the best tactics for being able to do this is simply to choose to speak last in group conversations; choose to listen to everybody else; choose to consolidate their ideas, thoughts and concerns, so that you might respond adequately.  This way, you are perceived as a keen, considerate listener.  When managing objections, the patience in listening will provide the EA with an opportunity to be able to find insights in the things that have been communicated, and leverage needle-point moves in the conversations, even as they endeavor to move a difficult discussion forward.

Patience pays off in other aspects of life …

Oh yes and yes!  Strategic patience definitely comes in handy in many aspects of life.  Take shopping for example: it’s only those people who are patient enough to rustle through huge piles of clothing, or wait overnight outside an Apple Store for the newly launched i-phone who get the best bargains.  The same applies when you are helping your company look for a great opportunity; or trying to negotiate your way to a great deal on electricity, water or even mortgages.  Strategic patience is required in order to browse several suppliers, read the small print, ask the right questions, and test a few samples before making a decision.

Remember this is not for the faint hearted! It doesn’t come easy in the current fast-moving world. It definitely has its place and it is a matter of choice.  As with everything in the journey of emotional intelligence, you need to understand your reactions, your own triggers – and those of others – in order to self-manage and reap the benefits of strategic patience in your day-to-day life.

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About Author

Sarah Richson

Sarah Richson (MBA, MCIPD, AOEC, MIHRM) started her career as an Executive Personal Assistant but transformed her career path through her passion for people, to become one of the world's top human development thought leaders. Her passion for developing grass root talent and unleashing hidden potential in others is the driving force in her life. She is a prolific speaker and trainer who advocates for empowering lives of local communities with inspirational mentorship programs. An international consultant, executive coach and organisation development expert, her career is multi-dimensional and includes years as a leadership professional trainer and HR Consultant working on European, Asian and African projects. She is a wife and working mother of 5 and claims that her success is underpinned by having a warm supportive family. Sarah works with Assistants on topics such as emotional intelligence and personal branding, that inspire and build the Assistant as a professional and as a holistic individual.

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