Career Woman

5 ways to be the adult in the room (personally & professionally)


You’re in the 2nd hour of a mind-numbing discussion. Everyone is saying the same old thing.Your mind starts to wander as you start fiddling with your device of choice. “You’re suddenly seized by the impulse to stand up and shout, “SILENCE!! Can we PLEASE get to the point? What are we doing? Why are we doing it? And how are we going to make it happen?”

Congratulations! You’ve just had a moment of being the Adult in the Room. You are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime (literally), armed with a practical set of skills that will help you get — and stay — on track.

1) Think like a builder

What would it take to build the house of your dreams? Since this is your dream house, let’s put money aside. You’d spend time looking for creative inspiration, talking to people and getting ideas for what you want. Then, you would hire an outside team to build it. Your team might look something like this:

  1. The Client (You) – Creates vision
  2. The Architect – Translates vision into a plan
  3. The Contractor — Translates plan into labor
  4. The Labor – Performs site work
  5. The Project Manager – Coordinates team

When you’re the Adult in the Room, it’s the exact same thing, except you play all these roles:

  1. The Client – What do I want? What questions will ensure the best possible outcome? Who is on my team to help me accomplish my goal? What is standing in my way?
  2. The Architect – How do I translate my goals into action? What’s my plan?
  3. The Contractor – How am I going to execute my plan successfully? What steps are involved?
  4. The Labor Force – What does my day-to-day look like?
  5. The Project Manager – How do I manage all this?

As you can see, Thinking Like a Builder is a very good paradigm for being the Adult in the Room. (This is also a great way to manage your upcoming remodel. I speak from experience.)

2) Cut the drama

It never helps. Being the Adult in the Room you know and accept the stress that comes with the territory. Of course, we should attempt to minimize unnecessary stress points, but accepting that stress is part of the process means you’re not taking to your bed whenever challenges arise. One of the better ways to do that is to stay focused on the outcome. This helps you re-frame your perspective to “How do I manage this?”, putting you – not your stress –in charge of what happens next.

3) Respect the process…of building a process

I once worked with a client and recommended the partners have a meeting to discuss Process. The client laughed and said, “That’s a little corporate for us. We’re really more freewheeling.” Nearly a year later, the company was in turmoil. Conflict and mistrust had spiraled, creating an toxic culture and an existential threat to the company.

With the business in crisis, the senior team finally agreed to take a serious look at their operating process – and no surprise, it was a mess. Everyone weighed in on everything, but no one was in charge. Making decisions was agonizing. Priorities fluctuated on a daily basis so no one could plan ahead. Everything was late. No one was accountable for specific tasks. The good news is, a year later, this same company is much improved. Why? Because they understood the need to build a better process, where everyone clearly understood the desired outcome, the steps required, the deadlines, and their specific accountabilities.

What people don’t realize about Process is that it’s actually fun when it kicks into action. Not only will you suddenly discover you magically have more time to spend doing the things you want, you’ll also build real momentum as pieces start falling into place, which creates its own kinetic energy.

4) Get comfortable making decisions

This is so important and I can’t emphasize it enough. Here’s the thing about decisions: over the course of your lifetime, you will make literally hundreds of thousands of them. Master it early. It will save you and everyone you know from hours of angst and confusion. Of course, you need a healthy process to make good decisions (see #3) but once you get it, everything is so much easier.

5) Solve problems

Becoming a Problem Solver is the best way to advance your career and your life. Why? Because solving problems gets things done. Because solving problems creates momentum. The Adult in the Room sees problems as a puzzle to be solved, rather than something to be afraid of. Rather than ignore or actively run from problems, the Adult embraces the opportunity to make progress. A fun exercise: See how many people you know who say “challenge” instead of “problem.” The ones who say “problem” are the Adults in the Room.

As the world changes and a new generation prepares to take the reins, it’s important to build personal competencies that can help navigate its inevitable unpredictability. There’s a lot more to say on the topic. As soon as we stop freaking out.

About Christine Birch

Christine G. Birch is the CEO of THE ROYGBIV COLLECTIVE. Birch immigrated to the US from the island of Jamaica at the age of 3. Christine eventually rose through the Hollywood power ranks to become the first & only black woman ever to run marketing for a major studio (Sony Pictures). Now, Christine is focusing her wide-ranging talents on her new company, THE ROYGBIV COLLECTIVE, which develops business leaders & projects focused on advancing the next phase of human progress.

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