We often refer to ownership of a task when taking responsibility in a work setting. It’s hard to think of a job that does not involve personal responsibility for delivering, providing or making something happen. However, a different but related meaning emerges when you literally take the word apart. Response-ability then becomes taking responsibility for yourself and how you do things.

Here are some situations where your response-ability might be tested:

  • You’ve been overworked for a while. Small, seemingly trivial incidents tip you over the edge regularly and you blow up with people. You are angry.
  • Your colleague keeps taking time off work that impacts on the workload of the rest of the team. It’s not how you would do things. You are irritated.
  • You provide clients with reports by agreed deadlines. Then you don’t get any feedback despite repeated attempts to get a response. You are frustrated.
  • Your annual performance review is due. You can’t stop thinking about all the potential criticisms you might face. You are fearful.
  • A colleague gets to go to an important conference yet again. They always seem to get the nod over you. You are jealous.
  • You become obsessed with wanting that promotion or that role. You must have it.
  • You love the technical side of the team’s work. You immerse yourself for long hours without noticing. It gives you pleasure.
  • You have no social life. Work interferes negatively with family life. You can’t sleep. Your team complains you have no time for them. You are in pain.


Click here for School of Life video on Plato and his Philosophy

These scenarios reflect the six tyrants referred to by the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato – anger, fear, jealousy, desire, pleasure, and pain. His mantra was ‘know yourself’. He wanted us to think more so that we would lead a good life and not one dominated by the six tyrants.

We’ve all met people who have become defined by their anger (‘it’s management’s fault’) or by their fear (‘I’m not good enough’). They are often fighting some perceived injustice where the tyrants rule their thinking and it leads to blind spots. Response-ability, in a more productive and positive way, involves weakening the grip of these tyrannical thoughts and letting go. How can you do that?

  1. Pausing – you will build patience and resilience by adopting consistently mindful practices like meditation and exercise.
  2. Noticing – you will regain perspective and allow these tyrants to pass by observing what’s happening, accepting it and stepping back.
  3. Empathising – you can alter your perspective and give yourself choices in how you respond by checking out your assumptions about a situation or another person’s reality.
  4. Questioning – you will be less judgemental taking a learning-mindset through showing curiosity.
  5. Asserting – you will overcome a negative response to fighting an injustice by standing up for what you see as just in a calm and authoritative way, without trampling on the rights of others and genuinely understanding their viewpoints.

Don’t let the thought tyrants personify you or dominate your thinking so you lose perspective and control of your self. Work on your inner balance. Take control of your response-ability to develop your responsibility.