In virtually all relationships, whether business or personal, there is an initial euphoria stage, commonly referred to as the honeymoon. At the start of a relationship, expectations and enthusiasm are the highest and we tend to see the things that we want (hope) to see.
Unfortunately, as we all know, the honeymoon eventually ends.
The reason for this is quite simple. While we think we enter relationships literally with a blank slate, this is simply not the case. All individuals have expectations about the nature of their relationships and intentions as to the outcome. Since we rarely discuss these expectations and intentions openly, fulfilling them becomes highly improbable. When was the last time you met someone who always was exactly the way you wanted them to be? And when were you last in a relationship where things turned out exactly the way you wanted them to?
The result is unfulfilled expectations and thwarted intentions, leaving us disappointed and often disillusioned. Once a disappointment has occurred and a person becomes upset, the same mistake is often repeated. Again, rather than discussing the unfulfilled expectation or thwarted intention, no one says anything. In the existing paradigm, communication is often the choice of last resort.
Remember, in the existing paradigm, the predominant human emotion is fear. Once again, fear is the primary culprit in the failure to acknowledge disappointment — fear of offending or appearing foolish, fear of inviting a confrontation and fear of the consequences that such a confrontation will create. Or, when people do tell others they are upset by their behavior, they often deliver their feelings as a personal attack or an attempt to assign blame, fault or guilt. No wonder, the primary response is defensiveness.
In Your Mind`s File Room
In the existing paradigm, people operate under the assumption that ignoring or suppressing disappointments and upset feelings will make the episode pass. It doesn`t. Rather, when we don`t communicate, we instead go into the great metaphorical file room in our minds, find a file cabinet that has some empty space, take a file folder and put the person`s name on it and carefully deposit the disappointment into the file.
The metaphorical file becomes a place to store evidence reinforcing the initial judgment. Rather than silence making the bad feelings go away, what happens instead is that they fester. Without communication, these evaluations become the individual`s reality, i.e. their paradigm about the other person.
Any distinction between the actual facts of the original occurrence and their interpretation, as stored in the file, disappears.
Just about everyone opens such files and collects evidence. In their minds, they are exonerating themselves of any responsibility for the collapse of their relationships. Undelivered communications, rather than disappearing, escalate and kill countless relationships. Inevitably, people will fight about something and, in such an environment, the best scenario that a company can often hope for is peaceful coexistence and polite superficial conversation among virtual strangers. Sound familiar?
What makes all of this particularly disastrous is that it robs the company of any real possibility of success. As we have written about previously (see the post entitled The X-Factor: Alignment), the success of an organization is a function of the degree to which the people within it are all aligned on a common vision for the future. How can this occur when people are not communicating and walking around carrying files? And, in just about every company The Scott Hunter Group has worked with over the last sixteen years, the number one problem is the breakdown in relationships as a result of a failure to communicate.
People who live in the possible paradigm operate differently. They understand that quality relationships are critical to the success of a team and that communication is the fundamental basis of quality relationships. They further understand that they must keep their files empty and deal with issues immediately when they arise.
In the final analysis, there are only three reasons why people do not communicate: (1) in the existing paradigm they don`t know that they have to; (2) they don`t know how to communicate appropriately even if they want to; and (3) they can`t count on others, or even themselves to listen appropriately when someone else needs to communicate.
All three of these barriers to effective relationships are easily resolved.
As to barrier number one, you simply commit to communicating everything, and we really do mean everything. Once you start the process of withholding communications, it becomes very easy to justify withholding the next communication. The only solution is to commit to communicating everything.
Regarding barrier number two, a critical element to the communication process is responsible speaking. People must speak honestly and straight, but with compassion and respect. They must learn to not speak self-righteously or try to demean, attack or blame someone else for an upsetting emotion.
Communication must become strictly a report on the speaker`s thoughts and feelings about a particular person or event. Most importantly, people must keep their communication on their side.
People must say things like, My expectations of you that are unfulfilled are… or, I am disappointed in you or our relationship in that… or, My intentions for you or us that have been thwarted are…. Note, in all cases, the speaker is talking about their disappointments, their unfulfilled expectations, their thwarted intentions, rather than accusing or blaming the other person. It is my experience that when people speak with compassion and talk about themselves, communication works.
Finally, for scaling barrier number three, the listener plays the more vital role. When a speaker tells of an upset, the listener must recognize the validity of that experience. Whether or not the listener agrees with the speaker`s interpretation of past events, the listener must recognize that the speaker`s report of thoughts and feelings is true for him or her.
Defensiveness, explanation, justification, argument and resistance by the listener will inhibit communication and reinforce the evaluation that gave rise to the file in the first place. The listener`s only appropriate response is, thank you, or I`m sorry, or both.
It`s critical that the listener simply gets the speaker`s communication and encourages the person to empty their files. The listener must not react, not interpret the communication that they are being blamed and, though often difficult, not take it personally.
Once communication is complete, all the participants need to apologize to one another where appropriate and forgive each other. An apology is not an expression of sorrow, nor is it an admission of guilt. When used most powerfully, an apology is simply an acknowledgment of one`s impact on another and a statement of responsibility in the resulting upset. It is also an invitation for the other to forgive.
True forgiveness wipes the slate clean. It releases all anger, resentment and the desire to punish. Forgiveness is a gift one gives to oneself, because it relieves the suffering provoked by anger and resentment.
The Goal: Nurturing Relationships
Sound, nurturing relationships do not happen by accident. They require real commitment to others and a willingness to do the work of effective communication.
If people in business are to reap the benefits offered by the possible paradigm — benefits like joy, aliveness, enthusiasm, satisfaction, happiness and, yes, even success — they are going to have to reorient the focus of their businesses. This means emphasizing others and retraining themselves, their associates, staff and customers in the skills of effective speaking and listening.
Empowering relationships will not solve all the problems in the present business environment. However, you cannot build an efficient and productive office environment and achieve the financial and personal success and satisfaction all people desire without highly effective personal relationships.