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What To Do If You’re Always An Option But Never A Priority

What To Do If You’re Always An Option But Never A Priority

There are times when you realize you are an option and not a priority, and if you don’t realize it, you are haunted by the thought.

When you get together with a certain someone, you feel like the third wheel or the last one invited to the party.  You are the plus one.  Maybe you suspect you are some last minute arrangement.  Sometimes you may feel like you are being edged out by some invisible force, like a new, more interesting version of you with more time or more money or fewer problems.

I’ve been there, too, too many times.  I have been the understanding girlfriend, the accommodating wife, the forgiving sister and the easy-going friend.  I would make excuses like, “Well, they are just a) busy b) stressed c) going through a rough time or d) in a weird place right now.”  And sometimes these things could have been true.  I would tell myself I needed to be less self-centered, egocentric or needy, which sounded healthy.  I’d go over what I didn’t do right.  I’d try to be THE better person and give them a pass.  I’d try to be a better person more worthy of their attentions and affections.

But after exhausting myself, I had to come to terms:  I had allowed myself to become “the option person” in life.   And although we can’t make people make us a priority, we do have the power to enable ourselves to become a “priority person” in life.  And here is how it can be done by you and me.

1. Make yourself and your needs a priority

I know it might sound counter-intuitive to you, but the truth is people like you because you make them the priority and they don’t have to make you a priority.  By indulging yourself, doing what you want, when you want, how you want, even if you are alone while doing it, you are really carving out your own dominion.

The people who want to make you a priority will come to your kingdom or they can play elsewhere.

If you are a very giving person, you will have a hard time with this.  If necessary, get a pet or a garden going that needs you to make them a priority.  You will fulfill your need to be giving in a healthy way that doesn’t set up these relationships where you are second best.

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But truly, you need to start living for yourself, not for another person.

2. Recognize the users in your life, even if they are family

It is difficult to identify and then distance yourself from the users in your life, especially if it is family members who have been the ones who have taught you since birth through their actions that you and your wants aren’t very important.  It could be that they have their own emotional baggage, and you can be compassionate about it, but if they are repeatedly enforcing the message that you are not good enough or that your needs shouldn’t come first, then you have to take a step back from them when the time is right for you.

Someone taught you to be the “option person,” and you have to get real about who that person or those people are.  It will be life altering when you take the blinders off.  Promise.

3. List the value of you

It may sound dopey, but for all the time you might spend criticizing and putting yourself down, you at the least need to make a mental lists of your valuable assets.  You have them.  You have your funny side, your compassionate side, your loving side, your nurturing side, your smart side, your hard-working side, and so many other sides.  List them.  Pin them up on a mirror.  Every day we spend time looking in mirrors to check out our face, teeth, and clothes.  Have some internal, introspective, beneath-the-surface qualities that demonstrate you are worthy.  Chances are you’ve forgotten some.

After internalizing your list, you’ll notice better when others don’t appreciate you, and you’ll know sooner to stop wasting emotional energy on them or to re-prioritize them as an option person, too.

4. Invest yourself in a worthy cause

I don’t think we think about volunteering and charity as a self-help tool, but it can be.  If you are a giving person, give to a cause that will benefit from your good works.  Don’t dump your energy into people who are not valuing you.  It does no good.  But do give yourself to helping others and causes you care about, you will be doing something of value.

And just think of it, you just added another reason you are a valuable, worthy person.  Viola!

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5. Don’t turn back!

It is difficult for me not to look back on the good times with people and not think better times will come around, but realistically, you shouldn’t turn back.  Once you have realized you are the option, not the priority, a priority person will not look back or go back to being the option person.  It will hurt.  I haven’t had the experience where someone wanted to know what went wrong and try to work on things. I’ve either gotten silence or a caustic list of how I am the cause of all wrong.  So unless you want to be the doormat or someone’s whipping dog or slip back into being just an option, you have to move forward.

Hope is a really great thing unless it is distorting your reality and derailing your future.

6. Believe that better people and better things are just ahead!

Reading over other online posts, the number one reason people get stuck being an option and are unable to make themselves a priority is because they don’t believe there is someone or something better just ahead.  Maybe few people want to admit it, but it seems a lot of drama is coming out of the idea that they are “meant to be” with a certain someone:  Giving up on that person is giving up on love. Giving up means breaking our word. We promised. We committed. We must remain faithful and true to the end. We must go down with the ship!

But the thing is, once the other person has given up on love, stopped trying, started investing themselves elsewhere, the love stopped existing.  Once the friendship was left behind, it withered and died.  Relationships, like plants, need things to live and more care to thrive.  Hanging on to someone or something because of a story you told yourself a few years ago is going to take away the best things in your life:  your possibilities and your future.

As cliche as it is, it is true:  every ending is something else’s beginning.  And if you have worked on yourself and your priorities, the right people and opportunities will show themselves.

7. Stay fluid and continue to make new friends

One of the reasons high school can be terrible or some job can be awful is because we get stuck with the same people and the same routines.  Nothing new or interesting happens unless someone new comes into the group. But instead of waiting for someone new to come to you, like “option people” do, you need to go out and meet new people, make new friends and contacts, and expand your horizons.  As an “option person” you probably fenced yourself in.  You maybe even lost touch with other people because you were trying to stay available for that other person or because you allowed yourself to get sucked into all their plans having none of your own.

Even the worst dating article I read had a truth in it; no one will make you a priority until you make them show you are a priority.

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And if you are hanging around hoping that certain someone will finally give you the metaphoric red roses you deserve, you have turned your back on the person who is already ready to do so.  So drop off that other person’s radar.  If they come around, great.  If they don’t, which is more likely, even better.  Because to tell you the truth, it seems me many want second chances because they can get third, fourth, and fifth ones too.  How tiresome are they?  Let them learn the hard way.  Don’t continue to be their soft landing spot in life.

8. Be direct with what you want from the relationship

This may send you into panic mode, and if it does, I’m sorry.  But really, if you don’t like being an option and you don’t like being taken for granted and if you want more, you have to have “the talk.”  I know this is the best thing and should be probably number one.  It probably makes all the other stuff I’ve said non-issues.  And I know for a lot of people it will be like scheduling a root canal and then showing up to find out they are out of laughing gas.  But in some ways, it isn’t much more effort than number one, making yourself and your needs a priority.  But you have to actually communicate them to the someone significant in your life, or the someone you wish to become significant in your life.

You may even need your list of value in hand, to remind yourself you are worth it.

9. Be okay with being on your own without turning into a hermit or emotionally shallow

You may be hanging on and becoming comfortable with being an option person largely because you are more afraid of being alone and feeling lonely. Or you are more comfortable with the lack of intimacy in your relationship.  Or you’re afraid of intimacy. Sometimes distant relationships or relationships that come and go easily aren’t because they are these great, epic friendships where people are so perfectly comfortable with each other they can pick up where they started.  Sometimes they work because the people in these relationships lack emotional depth or are avoiding long-term intimacy that requires accountability.  You want to keep your depth, your ability to connect emotionally with someone, and to be able to be held equally accountable in a long-term relationship.  So while you need to be able to weather life on your own, you don’t want to become so comfortable that you lose you ability to have a meaningful relationship.

Meaningful relations are all about being a priority.

So while you need to be able to weather life on your own so you won’t settle or hang-on to the wrong people, you don’t want to become so comfortable that you lose you ability to have a meaningful relationship.

10. Allow yourself to be a little high-maintenance

I mention this one lastly because I believe many of you option people have tried so hard in life to be the accommodating one or to please someone or not to be upsetting or to be demanding in any way.  I’ve had people try to make it out like I was being high maintenance as a strategic move to get me to be the jellyfish friend or the sad-sap girlfriend they needed.  I’ve made friendships and relationships all about the other person, and sometimes I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.

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Most people need to work on number nine and quit trying to use people as their crutches, their door mats, or their whipping dogs.  People don’t need other people as much as they need to quit using each other and get right with themselves.  So sometimes, do yourself the favor, be high-maintenance, make some demands, and be able to let them and yourself walk alone.

There are times when we won’t and can’t be a priority to someone else we deeply care about, legitimate reasons like they have a very young child or an aged parent who is very ill.  There are times when we have to be understanding about the demands of an occupation like if the person works shifts or has to work with people in different time zones.  We have to know their passions and how this will impact the relationship.  It the legitimate reasons are for real and are not just subterfuge or out-and-out lies, you could be doing the right thing by staying open, accommodating, and flexible.

But if the other person is communicating to you that your are not worth being a priority, then feel free to walk on.

And of course, you may just need more than the other person can give.

So believe you will find yourself a worthy partner who will want to walk beside you not one who would have you chasing their shadow.

Featured photo credit: outdoor portrait of young model via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

Builds Workers’ Skills

Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

Boosts Employee Loyalty

Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

Strengthens Team Bonds

Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

Promotes Mentorship

There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

1. Listen First

Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

You could say:

  • “Help me understand your thought process.”
  • “What led you to take that step?”
  • “What’s your perspective?”

2. Lead With a Compliment

In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

You could say:

  • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
  • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

3. Address the Wider Team

Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

You could say:

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  • “Let’s think through this together.”
  • “I want everyone to see . . .”

4. Ask How You Can Help

When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

You could say:

  • “What can I do to support you?”
  • “How can I make your life easier?
  • “Is there something I could do better?”

5. Give Examples

To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

You could say:

  • “I wanted to show you . . .”
  • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
  • “This is a perfect example.”
  • “My ideal is . . .”

6. Be Empathetic

Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

You could say:

  • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
  • “I understand.”
  • “I’m sorry.”

7. Smile

Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

8. Be Grateful

When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

You could say:

  • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
  • “We all learned an important lesson.”
  • “I love improving as a team.”

9. Avoid Accusations

Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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You could say:

  • “We all make mistakes.”
  • “I know you did your best.”
  • “I don’t hold it against you.”

10. Take Responsibility

More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

You could say:

  • “I should have . . .”
  • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

11. Time it Right

Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

12. Use Their Name

When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

You could say:

  • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
  • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

13. Suggest, Don’t Order

When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

You could say:

  • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
  • “Try it this way.”
  • “Are you on board with that?”

14. Be Brief

Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

15. Follow Up

Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

You could say:

  • “I wanted to recap . . .”
  • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
  • “Did that make sense?”

16. Expect Improvement

Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

You could say:

  • “I’d like to see you . . .”
  • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
  • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
  • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

17. Give Second Chances

Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

You could say:

  • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
  • “I’d love to see you try again.”
  • “Let’s give it another go.”

Final Thoughts

Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

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Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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