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Thinking for other people, reading minds, and making assumptions instead of communicating leads to wasted energy, lack of balance, and fewer results.

Chatting with a friend one day, I mention that I’m considering emailing my primary care doctor and asking him to fill a prescription that my orthopedist normally writes, but then immediately reconsider my request. I don’t want to inconvenience him, and I worry that it may not be appropriate for him to prescribe a medication for a condition that another doctor diagnosed and treated.

“Don’t do his job for him,” my friend replies.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s the doctor. It’s his job to decide if it’s not professional, outside of his scope, or too much of a drag for him to write that prescription. It’s also his job to tell you that, not your job to anticipate his needs and concerns. So don’t do his job for him.”

I didn’t. I emailed my doctor to request the prescription, he replied with “No problem,” and a day later it arrived in the mail. If he had said “No can do,” that would have been okay, too. My friend was right. It was not necessary to do his job for him, and letting him do it saved me energy and got me what I needed.

Doing others’ jobs puts systems out of balance

At this very moment, a professor in some department needs to consult with a colleague, but leaves her alone because he believes she may not want to be bothered. In this case, who has the greater responsibility: the professor, to anticipate his colleague’s needs, or the colleague, to tell the professor she is too busy? In all fairness, communicating one’s needs trumps mind reading. It’s the colleague’s job.

Mind reading: often attempted, rarely successful

Elsewhere, a staff member is ill and needs to be home resting, but she comes to the office anyway, not wanting to burden her co-workers with an overflow of her duties. Ironically, this person is doing her co-workers’ jobs by not letting them cover for her. When she is sick, her job changes. Her duty is not to come to the office and perform tasks, but rather to stay home and recover.  Her co-workers’ jobs also change temporarily, incorporating some of her tasks into their daily routine. If this creates a burden for them, then communicating this to her or finding another way to manage the workload is also their job.

Wasted energy, fewer results

Would you really want to do this guy’s job for him?

Doing others’ jobs is clearly not productive. Both the faculty and the staff spend precious energy for little or no return. Besides, their assumptions may be flat wrong. The colleague may be perfectly happy to consult, and the co-workers may prefer to take on extra work so the sick staff can stay away from the office, rest, and return at 100%. Unfortunately, neither the faculty nor the staff can possibly know this if they insist on doing others’ jobs for them and depriving their colleagues the opportunity to state their needs.


by Jason Sackett, LCSW
Professional Staff at CWFL