Often in leadership, and especially where there are two people involved, positions harden. It may happen that you have increasingly adverse positions with:
- Your boss on strategy or personnel
- Your spouse on child-rearing
- Your child on behavior and values
It can take a lot of energy, as you repeat the disagreements, and never quite resolve them. So, I offer a quick story; a paradigm-shifting concept; then a specific strategy.
The Story. Jennifer and I took the past week off together, and it was great. On a plane back to Oakland, I was in the window seat, suddenly wistful, as we slowly descended over the Bay. In 36 hours, it would be our youngest child Jack who would be staring out a plane window — heading to Rome for his first semester of college. Staring out the window, I streamed tears. The next morning in meditation, the sadness came again, AND then at one point, the feelings associated with the tears were BOTH distinctly sad AND simultaneously joyful.
The paradigm-shifting concept. We are oddly wired to expect that we have ONE main feeling and thought about things. So, you are sad OR happy; confident OR afraid; even tired OR energized. Yes, we use the word ambivalent. Or, we say, as if surprised, “I have mixed feelings.” We act like such a mix is rare, out of the norm. Likewise, we think an idea is good OR bad. A strategy is smart OR foolish. The paradigm shift that I would suggest is that the NORM is really that if we’re honest, we have mixed feelings and contradictory ideas almost all the time! I remember how excited and exuberant I was about getting married, for example, but the pictures taken of me before the ceremony also show great fear. I find wonderful freedom to think that it’s perfectly normal to have mixed feelings or thoughts — in me, alone.
You may be thinking: Wasn’t today’s RFL supposed to be about TWO people with hardened positions? And the answer is YES. Thus,
The Specific Strategy: When positions start to really harden with another person, begin by finding your sympathy inside yourself with their position. It’s almost always there. For instance, you might feel your spouse (or your child who is now a parent) is just too lenient in child-rearing. Or, just as easily, you can think someone on your team is just too “soft” in their expectations of the people who work for both of you. Stepping back from your position, you see they think YOU are way too rigid. So, step one is to find the ambivalence in yourself. Anyone with any sense knows that kids — from infant to eighteen — benefit from BOTH freedom and clear expectations. And workers need the same: understanding AND clear and high expectations.
The better you can appreciate the other’s viewpoint — because you can honestly see the concept in yourself — the better the chances YOU will also be heard by them. The more you can cultivate your own appreciation for their views — before you even begin the next discussion with them – the better positioned you will be to have a conversation where you can hear them. And when you can really hear someone else, tell them genuinely that you appreciate the principle they are standing for with genuineness, the better your chances that they will hear you. And the better you can think win-win, both seeing ideas not as “his” idea vs. “my” idea, but as ideas we can both appreciate. And from there you can move to disciplined win-win thinking, because you both see the value in both points of view.
I am sad and joyful. And I am hopeful that allowing my ambivalence will allow Jack in this case to feel all he feels. That feels and seems like a good way to be real with another and create room for them to live and
lead with their best self.