I have written and spoken much over the years about “family fusion” – Dr. Murray Bowen’s description of how family members give up “self” in order to maintain “togetherness.”
The lack of self-differentiation in one’s growing-up family predictably shows up in one’s marriage, children, friendships and work systems. “No-self” individuals have a difficult time building healthy relationships.
“Needing to be liked”
Because emotional fusion usually occurs without consciousness, and spares no one, approval-seeking has been widespread throughout human history. We want others to like us, and we unwittingly sacrifice honesty, smart decisions and the health of our bodies and minds to “purchase” relationship harmony and acceptance.
That works on a cosmetic level, but while members of the system might get along and plug forward, too much focus on approval robs a family or business of genuine honesty and strong connection.
In fact, relationship fusion and approval neediness might be the main propellers of cut-off in families and workplaces. Intense attachment stimulates an extreme need to distance.
Avoiding emotional fusion is a worthwhile goal; establishing healthy connection is just as important. But how does a leader pull it off?
Defining self: An alternative to fusion
I’m interested in the ingredients of connection because many of the leaders I work with appear stuck in a superficial pattern of interaction that offers no enduring value to their key employees. Such leaders score fairly low on the “connect-ability” scale.
Connecting well requires meaningful, one-on-one contact and regular vs. infrequent interactions. But the most important skill associated with connection is defining self by revealing “inside information.”
Let me give an example:
A mother, a son, and a business
The second-generation matriarch of a personal care products business recently requested a meeting to discuss a growing rift between her and her son, who runs the business, and shares equal ownership with her.
She views the son as obstinate and ungrateful because he has ceased seeking her counsel on the strategic direction of the business.
“He’s lost his appreciation for my 31 years of investment that built this business,” the mother told me. “He makes too many big decisions on his own, and he’s trying to put me out to pasture.
That’s not going to happen. I hope it doesn’t come down to a legal nightmare. I’m not going to sit here and be disrespected like that.”
I also spoke with the son, who can’t understand why his mother won’t graciously take a back seat.
“My mother has not kept up with what it will take to get us to the next level,” he says. “She’s had her day, and she’s done a great job, but now it’s my turn, and she won’t give me the breathing room I need to forge ahead with my own vision.”
The blaming tone used by both parties suggests intense reactivity and emotional fusion between parent and adult child. I estimate that 80 percent of what each disclosed was focused on the other person, a telling indicator of not functioning as a separate self.
Instead of argumentative point-making and accusing, what might it sound like for each to define self to the other by revealing “inside information?”
For example, the mother might say:
“I miss having the kind of dialogue with you that brings us together. I have assumed you want me out of the business, but I really haven’t come out and asked you what you want. What I value most is my connection with you, and with your wife and children. I want to figure out how to listen to you without reacting, and how to talk to you without blaming.”
The son might say:
“I haven’t communicated how much it means to me that you have trusted me to lead the business you’ve built. It’s very humbling to me, and I have in many ways taken you and it for granted. I want to know what you need from me that you’re not getting. That might be a good starting point for me to better understand where you’re coming from.”
Examples: “Inside Information”
A wide variety of “inside information” can be drawn upon in an effort to build a stronger relationship connection.
Business and institutional leaders, parents and international diplomats might consider revealing seven types of “inside information”:
Letting others gain understanding about who I am, what I believe and value, what I expect of myself, and what I’m up against.
Allowing others increasing glimpses into how I got here, my journey, my teachers, my “aha” moments, my career valleys and mountaintops.
Sharing detail about my life/work maturity spikes, and what triggered those. Reflecting with others on “what I used to be like,” vs. today.
Exposing my thinking about what separates good from great decision-makers, people developers, business leaders.
Disclosing what kind of relationship I would like to build with you, what it would look like to me if I were providing high value to you.
Sharing my philosophy of leadership, e.g. “I don’t necessarily believe that giving answers is the most fruitful way to build confidence. People usually have to reach the other side of struggle to see that it was beneficial. That’s at least what I have come to believe.”
Telling stories of my current self-learning: “Last week, in a staff meeting, I provided what turned out to be ‘productive impatience.’ This morning, I had an experience that helped me see how that same impatience can get in the way of progress.”
Sharing personal beliefs and information can be done in a way that manipulates, dominates, or seeks to win approval.
I am suggesting that revealing “inside information” can also express self-differentiation and a desire for a stronger relationship.
A weak connection often lurks underneath relationship problems. Strengthen the connection and see what happens.
One Response to “October 2013: Revealing “Inside Information”: A Relationship-Building Strategy”
October 01, 2013 at 12:07 pm, Laurie Lassiter said:
Thanks–a good reminder not to focus negatively on the other; I had a version of this mother’s feelings toward my own son a few weeks ago during a stressful period. I heard myself saying “You’re disrespecting me,” and I knew I was off base, but the occurrence of more than one stressful event at once had shut down the higher centers of my brain!