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"Rules for Radicals" Part 2: Getting to the Root of Relationship Challenges

September 1, 2017

In my August 2017 blog, I brought up the word “radical” to reclaim its proper meaning: “Getting to the root.”  When encountering relationship challenges, getting to the root of what’s really going on can give leaders and others a big edge in moving forward.

 

I began this topic last month by introducing the first four of my 10 Rules for Radicals. In this month’s blog, I present the remaining six. 

 

It’s important to remember that there are lots of exceptions to these rules, and nothing can replace your own careful judgment.

 

5.  If I'm passive in a relationship, I can expect that the other person will function in a more controlling manner.  If I exert control, the other person is likely to become more passive.

 

A friend of mine, "Sheila," is trying something new this year.  She usually makes all the vacation plans for her and her partner, Victor, to enjoy during their travels. 

 

That self-imposed role leaves Sheila exhausted, frustrated, and unable to enjoy the vacations she arranges.  She discovered that she doesn’t like doing all the work while Victor simply and happily luxuriates.

 

So she decided on a different approach – not planning a vacation at all.  Shifting from his trademark passivity, Victor eventually asked, “Are you working on planning a trip?”  Sheila had rehearsed a response that would challenge Victor to step up:   “I’m interested to hear what your vacation ideas are, and what part of the planning you want to take responsibility for.”

 

6. When I tell or direct someone, I promote obedience or rebellion. Conversely, my questions stimulate thinking and experimentation.

 

I notice that parents and business leaders often get caught in a "telling" trap. 

 

For example, Deb, the parent of a 12-year-old, finds herself continually reminding her budding teen about homework, the messy bedroom and public behaviors she deems important.  In response, Deb gets either obedience (“Tell me what to do and I’ll do it”) or rebellion (“I’m not going to do what you want me to do, and you can’t make me”). 

 

Deb has noticed that keeping close track of her daughter and dictating her behavior has not inspired independent thinking and initiative.

 

The same holds true with CEOs, principals, managing partners, team leaders and department heads. 

 

To get obedience or rebellion, tell.  To help others think and experiment, ask.

 

7. The more I focus on the nature of a problem, the less I focus on my response to the problem.

 

Last week, I got a parking ticket.  I immediately started thinking about the "unfairness" of the ticket, and why city officials charge so much for taxpayers to park on city streets.  What I didn't think about was what values and principals will govern my response.  The part of the situation I can control - my response to the problem - I gave the least amount of attention to.  That doesn't make sense.

 

Other examples:

 

Someone in the shipping department violated the company’s no-smoking policy.  The president sent an email to all employees, reminding them of the no-smoking policy.  Her indirect response became a bigger problem than the smoking:  many didn’t understand why the memo was sent, and the violator didn’t even read it. 

 

Marcus is a problem-solver who comes up with solutions to his wife Emily’s frustrations at work.  But after a long day at the office, Emily “just needs to talk and unwind.”  His fix-it mentality misses the deeper point of the discussion: connection.

 

8. My overreaction to a “problem person” is a bigger threat to the system than the “problem person.”

 

While coaching leaders in a large radiology practice, a physician named Eddie approached me.  He was worried that his 24-year-old son, Alan, “still doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life.”  He frequently questions Alan about the future. What’s a bigger problem: Alan’s confusion or Eddie’s overanxious response?

 

Amanda and her business partner, Nate, are discussing an emotionally charged issue.  Nate interrupts to make a point.  That's a mistake.  Amanda lashes out at Nate for interrupting, saying she refuses to be treated disrespectfully, and wants to end the conversation.  Her overreaction to Nate transforms a manageable mistake into a conversation-ender.

 

Wanda can’t stay in the room when her mother starts talking about politics.  Wanda pulls her two children out with her.  What hurts the family more, the mother’s unregulated political talk, or Wanda’s reaction to her mother?  What does it take to respond in a mature way to the immaturity of another?

 

9. The greater my certitude about a belief, the lower my capacity to question that belief.

 

For several years early in my career, I taught the importance of leaders motivating their employees.  I firmly believed that the best leaders functioned as business cheerleaders, bringing enthusiasm and passion into every interaction.

 

Later on, I discovered solid research that showed the direct opposite of what I had been promoting.  Conducted by two prominent University of Rochester professors, the research suggested that motivation is intrinsic--you can't inject it into people like a drug.  A more useful approach involves discovering what already motivates others.

 

I changed my belief about motivation.  Doing that required both the humility to admit I was mistaken and an openness to learn something new.

 

Healthy leaders, organizations, and families often change beliefs based on new information.  They make the distinction between “clarity, for now” and “certainty, forever.” 

 

10. Exposure to difference increases tolerance.  When I associate exclusively with people who resemble my background, views and lifestyle, I'm more likely to assume a narrow or extremist world view.

 

I am disheartened by the ongoing racial tension in the United States.  A couple of years ago, I took an honest look at my own life, observing that I have limited, meaningful, person-to-person contact with individuals of different races.  I assumed that more contact would increase my understanding.  That assumption is proving accurate.

 

What would happen if Democrats and Republicans participated in a session with one simple goal:  each articulates what they consider to be the weaknesses of their own party and the strengths of the other party?

 

Perhaps more realistically, is it likely that a business would benefit if bickering partners would sit together and offer both an honest self-critique and some thoughtful praise of their "opponent?"

 

I hope that my "10 Rules for Radicals" are helpful to you as you seek to discover the root of the particular relationship challenges you face at home and in the workplace. I am including the full list on the next page so that you have a complete, ready reference the next time you are asking yourself, "What's going on here?" 

 

 

 

Rules for Radicals

Probing the Roots of Relationship Challenges

 

 

1. The clearer I am about myself, the less I will be defined by others' needs, wants and expectations.

 

 

2. The harder I try to change others, the more the others will resist the change.

 

 

3. The more intensely I pursue another, the more intensely the other distances.

 

 

4. The greater the blame, the less the self-responsibility.

 

 

5. If I'm passive in a relationship, I can expect that the other person will function in a more controlling manner. If I exert control, the other person is likely to become more passive.

 

 

6. When I tell or direct someone, I promote obedience or rebellion.  Conversely, my questions stimulate thinking and experimentation.

 

 

7. The more I focus on the nature of a problem, the less I focus on my response to the problem.

 

 

8. My overreaction to a “problem person” is a bigger threat to the system than the “problem person.”

 

 

9. The greater my certitude about a belief, the lower my capacity to question that belief.

 

 

10. Exposure to difference increases tolerance.  When I associate exclusively with people who resemble my background, views and lifestyle, I'm more likely to assume a narrow or extremist world view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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