Wait – What if you AREN’T happy to see a key colleague – what then?

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Thanks for the comments and emails about last week’s blog on Aunt Linda and leaders like her who convey in words and behavior, “I’m so glad you’re here.” I am so glad you are here today with Read2Lead!

In contrast to last week’s positive message, sometimes we get into situations where the last thing we want to say is, “I’m glad you’re here.”  One of the reasons I am so committed to teaching and learning about “Leadingx2” is that I have not only seen how LX2 can make a pair and their teams SOAR, but I have also seen what it’s like when people don’t lead well by two. It’s painful!  I have watched school principals and presidents who each wished the other would just disappear, and I’ve watched their interpersonal animosity infect others in the school community. In my 20’s I worked for a professor who I was never “glad to see” and who wished – or came to wish – I was never there.  In my 30s, I had a deputy who was so unhappy I was there, that they put knives in my back.

This topic demands two parts, one today.  So today, I invite you into an honest inquiry into the dynamics of one-on-one conflict, so next week I can offer specific, actionable ways to dissipate conflict; in order to be able to say to another and hear back from them, “I’m glad you’re here.” This healing move is perhaps the hardest of all human moves, it is also perhaps the most rewarding and powerfully bonding.  It’s virtually impossible to make this move if you don’t have the intellectual courage to understand the dynamics that create and sustain conflict.

There are two sides to every story.  Captain Obvious, I am!  You know this truism, I know this, your grandma and grandkids know this. Yet there are three corollaries that we must respect.  I invite you to test them against any ongoing one-on-one conflict in your life:  Please bring to mind a child, spouse or ex-spouse, parent, boss, co-worker, or direct report about whom you would rarely or never want to say “I’m glad you’re here.” Let’s call the two Alex and Bailey for convenience:

Corollary 1:   In nearly every relationship where Alex is not happy to see Bailey, it is also true that Bailey is not happy to see Alex.  Bailey may be unaware of Alex’s aversion towards them and their aversion toward Alex. But the reciprocity is almost always there. With the Bailey in your life, is it not true that Bailey is also unexcited to see you?  (If you disagree, check this footnote* for the rare exceptions.) I have worked both sides of these fault lines, and the pain and fear is almost always on both sides.

Corollary 2:  Humans invariably blame the other. When any “I” is involved in one-to-one conflict that person tells themselves and would tell you if you asked:  “If I am not glad to see them, it’s because they did something to me.” Or, as we said as kids to our parents, teachers, etc:  “S/he started it.”  Or, we support our story with comparative fault: “Sure, I might have done X, but they did 3X to me in return.” Or, “I tried to repair it, but they didn’t want to.”

So, although corollary 1 says that reciprocity is nearly universal, corollary 2 says it’s nearly universal that we blame the other.  My story is (more) true, more accurate, obvious, logical.  And when I tell my friends, they almost always take my side!

Corollary 3: The two separate stories tend to grow more rigid and irreconcilable. I had a “story” that one of my children was “confrontational” and “strong willed.” As a result, it was nearly impossible for me to see their behavior any other way.  Their story, in turn, was that I was “untrusting of them and controlling.”  At the beginning of any difference, we would “retreat” into our stories about the other and reinforce our sense that they were the problem and we were the victim. We spent about 15 years during which our relationship was dictated and dominated by our respective and irreconcilable “stories.”  The Landmark training has a term for this; “we are always, already listening.”  When our defense systems are on alert to threat, attack, etc., we tighten against the other’s intrusions the second they “bleep” onto the furthest outside reaches of our radar screen.  The last thing we are about to say is, “I’m glad you’re here.”

That child and I escaped our mutually exclusive stories. Like a broken bone, we have healed stronger.  Likewise with my wife. Likewise with my writing partner.  Without truth-telling about these corollaries, we would never have healed the rifts.

Next week, some thoughts about what we can DO, but sometimes AWARENESS is a powerful doing of its own. Perhaps you can become aware in your partnerships of how easily your radar screen can be activated, of how your story is trapping you, and the pain of separation is a reciprocal pain.  Honesty with self is the cornerstone of

Leading with your best self, and in turn Leading by Two!

 

*If the conflict seems to only be felt by one of the two, I would suggest that these are the possible explanations:

  1. Bailey is such a positive person that they don’t even realize Alex is upset and that they could be doing something to cause that upset.  And/or
  2. Bailey is so socio-emotionally unaware of communication signals that they don’t know Alex is upset. And/or
  3. Alex is so good at “letting go” or “faking” they’re not upset, that Bailey just doesn’t (consciously) see it.
  4. Despite these seeming exceptions, note that we don’t need to be consciously aware of negative feelings to act upon those feelings. Our intuitions, and our heightened unconscious awareness of threats, can cause us to avoid people (or “fight” with them) even though we have no conscious awareness.

 

3 responses to “Wait – What if you AREN’T happy to see a key colleague – what then?

  1. Sometimes it isn’t just A and B, but A whom nobody wants to see because A insists on being critical of all their coworkers, without exception, of needing to be needed and recognized as superior, with no apparent clue of their impact and own (sometimes) flawed performance. Strategies among coworkers B—H was for a few in the group going seek A’s advice when appropriate both when valuable but consciously also to appease A’s need for flattery and to be needed, to avoid working with A to avoid the sabotage (even though probably never intentional) to them as people and to their work, and other avoidance techniques. With one exception B through H did not have issues with each other. And the two who did got together and worked it out a la leading x2. But the leading x2 may not always be an option. In that case, rely on your other colleagues to lead x7.

    1. Abigail,
      Thanks for sharing this scenario. Yes, I agree. There at times are toxic people. In this case, A, might stand for Asshole, as in Robert Sutton’s book The No Asshole Rule. Sutton dissects the impact of a truly negative person on teams and organizations. It sounds like you had/have experienced such an A. It’s hard to LX2 in that case! There are strategies; they take risk and courage, and may not work. A topic for another day :-). For now, thanks for your contribution.
      Best,
      Dan

    2. Abigail,
      I missed this comment until now. This is super-interesting and well-articulated.
      Robert Sutton of Stanford wrote a book called The No Asshole Rule. He argues there are just assholes sometimes, and he talks about the TCA or Total Cost of Assholes.
      In my experience, these people – like all of us are insecure and highly defensed – but unlike most of us, they see unable or unwilling to see their insecurity. So, rather than check themselves – introspecting – they project everything onto others.
      I am so curious in your example, whether the couple people were able to deal with A, because they created enough trust for some openness on A’s part? Or were they just workarounds – stroking the ego sufficiently to keep A from exhibiting bad behavior towards them?
      Thanks for taking the time to articulate this important point of view!
      Dan

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