I gave two speeches this past week, both in Phoenix, AZ, to two different groups of senior executives in companies attending their association’s annual convention. In both cases, the theme was creating extraordinary levels of teamwork in their organizations given out definition of a successful company: a group of turned on, enthusiastic, happy and excited group of individuals working together on behalf of a future they have all committed themselves to. So the essence of both talks was The Art of Being Related.
It didn’t come as a surprise to me that virtually everyone in the room felt that their biggest challenge as a leader and manager of people was in figuring out how to get people to get along and in figuring out how to deal with challenging people. People told me stories like: as soon as I walk into work, someone comes in and tells me all the negative things that happened during the day; or I have people on my team that don’t talk to each other; or I have a manager who doesn’t know how to manage people effectively; or any other of the hundreds of complaints I’ve heard over the years.
I’ve become convinced that this is the number one concern of just about everyone in a leadership or management position. But here’s why the problem never gets solved: the question I’m always asked is: how do I deal with the other person or people. This is one of the ego’s favorite strategies to rob you of your peace. It presents you with unsolvable problems and/or unanswerable questions and the problem/question of how to deal with or fix the other person is most often unsolvable.
So here’s the only formula that I have ever discovered that works: In every situation where you are dealing with other people, you must first understand that you only and always have just two choices. That you don’t realize this and opt for a third is what gets you in trouble most of the time.
Choice number one: accept the person just the way they are and just the way they are not. You’re going to stick with this person and work things out. When you make this choice, the ball is in your court. The responsibility to change is yours, not theirs. It starts with giving up your judgments and assessments of them, then stopping making them wrong for whatever you’ve been making them wrong about, and start listening for the gold in them. Inside every human being is a bar of gold and if you look for it and assume it’s there, you’ll bring it out in them. It means getting on their side, being compassionate for whatever they are dealing with and working committedly to act like and be their best friend. When you change your attitude towards them and create a space for them to show up great, the odds are they will.
Choice number two: you decide you can’t accept choice number one and you terminate the relationship. Not every relationship is intended to and can work. Sometimes, you just can’t find the gold. If you can’t be 100% committed to the other person, it serves nobody to try and keep the relationship alive. Trying to do that is my definition of pain and life does not have to be a painful experience. So cut your ties and move on.
Now I want to repeat that these are your only two viable choices. But most of you refuse to understand that and opt of a third choice which invariably leads to stress and suffering. And the third choice is to do neither select choice one or two and complain. And there is a large list of reasons why people opt for this choice, but the biggest one is that the person is too valuable to let go and while you can’t accept choice one, you’re not willing to pick choice two.
I remember the managing partner of a law firm I worked with many years ago calling me up about every six months complaining about one of the firm’s partners and how disrespectful he was to the staff and how badly he impacted the morale in the office. I would invariably say: why don’t you fire him. He would invariably answer: he brings in too much work to the firm and if I let him go, I would probably have to let others go to. So I would say: so take him on as your friend, coach him, and learn to accept things just the way he is and isn’t. Whereupon he would reply: I can’t do that. He’s obnoxious and I don’t like him.
So he would complain and suffer and call me periodically to express his complaints, but nothing every changed. He suffered, the behavior never improved and nothing got accomplished.
In conclusion, if you would like to dramatically increase your peace of mind and have a breakthrough in the quality of all of your relationships, take a look at all of the relationships in your life, both personally and at work, and choice one of the two workable choices in each. This might prove to be painful if you have to pick choice two in some cases, but if you do choose in every case, you will be so much happier in the end, you won’t believe it.