Saturday Morning Rounds November 30, 2019 - How to get your partner to take on more emotional labor

Posted by BossB, MD on November 30, 2019
BossB, MD

Saturday Morning Rounds
A weekly round-up of everything that captured our attention over the last 7 days

This week's rounds

Is a bit different because we're still on the road for the holidays. As such, we're reposting what we think is one of our better SMRs - hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving, and wishing safe travels home to those of you on the road this weekend!

What we're reading

How to Get Your Partner to Take on More Emotional Labor by Britni de la Cretaz

The topic of emotional labor is top-of-mind for us right now - these past couple weeks alone we've spoken with a number of clients who are struggling to handle the lopsided emotional labor expectations of them at work. One client has found that her clinic is measurably less efficient than her male colleagues' because many of the female nurses and MAs feel a lot more comfortable coming to her throughout the day to ask questions and/or interact socially. Another client was annoyed that she was, yet again, the only partner in her practice to remember the birthday of their administrator and coordinate a gift, even though she'd brought it up at last month's partner meeting and specifically asked for help & ideas. A third client even got asked to take notes in a meeting! This is sadly an all-too-common experience, and the author of this week's article has some thoughts on how to overcome it.

First and foremost, we should state that this article is written specifically about emotional labor at home, in personal relationships. While that's definitely an important topic, it's not our expertise, so we'll focus on how you can apply the advice in professional contexts. The author lays out a 6-step process:

  1. Understand the dynamic
  2. Identify the problem
  3. Talk to your partner
  4. Seek outside support
  5. Make an emotional labor task list
  6. Focus on changing the person you can control: yourself

We suspect you've already got numbers 1 and 2 covered, but to apply numbers 3-6 in a professional context takes some tweaking. And that's what we'll address in our "tip of the week."

Who we're following

Anytime the topic of emotional labor comes up, we think of Dr. Mamta Gautam's (@PEAKMD) advice that "no is a complete sentence." Follow her to stay up-to-date on all things physician health, and to learn more about how to say no without explaining yourself.

BBMD tip of the week

So you've understood the dynamic and identified the problem in regards to your emotional labor at work. What next?! Here are our workplace tweaks on the step-by-step process outlined in this week's article:

  1. Understand the dynamic ✅
  2. Identify the problem ✅
  3. Talk to your partner
    • Prevention is the best medicine for emotional labor. The optimal time to set expectations and delineate professional boundaries is the first moment that you sense somebody is expecting you to perform uncompensated, unwanted emotional labor. The key here is doing so with lightness and tact. Try cracking a joke or making a comparison between what they're asking you to do and some similar but absurd task that you could ask them to do in return. "Could you take notes?" Might be replied to by a "Sure Jim, as long as you'll caddy for me at this year's golf tournament!" The key here, again, is to keep it light and humorous, avoiding defensiveness in your counterpart. Honey, as they say, catches more flies than vinegar.
  4. Seek outside support
    • This week's article uses a couple's counselor as the example of "outside support," but your ideal outside support likely won't be another human. If the "honey" approach isn't working, our next option still isn't vinegar - it's a redirect. Enlist your team for their help in brainstorming how to change someone else's expectations of your emotional workload (even if it's really them you want to change). This will (a) cause them to feel valued because you've asked their advice, and (b) make them aware of the problem without prompting feelings of defensiveness. What might this look like? Well, for our client who's having trouble with nurses and MAs slowing down her clinic, she could bring this to the table at the next physicians meeting and ask their advice on how to solve the problem. People are much more likely to help you if they feel like they're a valued part of your team instead of your opponent. If you could use an outside perspective to brainstorm ideas and practice with, that's exactly the kind of situation for which we created our 1-hour strategy session.
  5. Make an emotional labor task list
    • If all else fails, providing some solid data around the problem and asking for a commitment from your team to solve it is likely to be your best option. Before taking such an overt route though, think intentionally about whether it's "worth it," because this approach has a higher likelihood of creating conflict. If you determine that the topic must be broached, an effective way to do so would be to track the time you spend on emotional labor for the next 1-3 months, list the specific tasks that are coming to you disproportionately, and present the data in a calm, matter-of-fact tone. Then ask your counterpart(s) whether they agree that this imbalance exists. If they do, ask them what tasks they'd like to take on themselves in order to maintain the positive work culture that all your emotional labor has created, making it clear that you can't keep juggling all these tasks on your own.
  6. Focus on changing the person you can control: yourself
    • At the end of the day, taking total and complete ownership for what goes on in your professional life (and life in general) is always a more adaptive strategy than focusing on others, even if they're to blame. The group still forgets the next few staff birthdays? Maybe there isn't a cake for the next one (but still a 1:1 conversation with that particular staff member about why not - they're really just caught in the crossfire and you wouldn't want them to feel undervalued). Someone keeps stepping over your boundaries? Reinforce them by communicating more explicitly and maybe even introducing consequences. As a last straw, if your workplace won't adjust and the cost of emotional labor to you is high enough, finding another workplace becomes an option. The key is to remember that you always have both more power and more options than you likely realize. Doubling down on your own sense of agency and your belief in yourself to solve the problem will result in creative ideas and clear actions to reach your goal.

Quote we're contemplating

“You teach people how to treat you" - Dr. Qaali Hussein, MD, FACS


As always, please let us know your requests and suggestions on Twitter. Which section above is your favorite? What do you want more or less of? Just send a tweet to @BossB_MD and put #SaturdayMorningRounds in there so we can find it.

Have a wonderful weekend, y'all!