One of our goals is to dive into real world application of the topics we explore. JB’s question showed up recently on the ODS blog. He asks, “How do we find the sort of resolve to respond properly in a situation where we clearly have no ability to affect the trust relationship, the other person is unwilling to budge, and the consequences are dire?”
Thank you for your question. I know it feels very familiar to many of us. I’d like to break my answer into two parts – first on mindset and secondly on viable responses.
Mindset: Like JB, many of us find ourselves in untenable work situations. Sometimes it can feel as though we are serving out a prison sentence, rather than building a career. We can feel locked into a situation or pattern of behavior (ours or another’s). A clue is often revealed in the words we use when we describe the situation to an observer. For example, in your question we notice a few intense, polarized terms such as “no ability”, “unwilling to budge”, and “dire”. We don’t know much about the specifics, but still we’re already sensing the adversarial nature of the circumstances, and our natural fight/flight response is twitching.
In my experience, when people are at this point in thought or emotion, the very thing we need – viable options to consider – elude us. I often coach others to suspend their thoughts for a moment, even though they seem totally justified, and purposely soften them. It’s possible that a rigid mindset is in our own way.
In JB’s case, it might look something like this. “The consequences are important so how can I nudge this trust relationship in a better direction, assuming that this person is reluctant but willing to budge under the right conditions?”
Viable Options: We don’t know which of these might help but at least now we are free to brainstorm a list of ideas. We might try:
- Avoid email when possible. Call or even better, talk face-to-face.
- Ask open-ended questions such as, “what do you think about?” or “when ___ happens, how does this make you feel?”
- Explore a new set of measures and targets that could enhance the teamwork between you.
- Set aside what we think and decide to learn what they think. Respond to what we learn.
- Show our interdependence in some way, perhaps by asking for their help in prioritizing our work.
- Take a chance and admit vulnerability with “I” statements. For example,“I’m frustrated and scared that we don’t seem to be able to communicate together better.”
- To clear the air, take the person to lunch away from the office.
- Begin sending simple updates (weekly or monthly) of what you’re doing. Discuss them together.
- If these pay off, even a little, think positive and keep going.
JB – it sounds like your relationship is important enough to be worth exploring at least this level of effort. If after trying some of these approaches you must honestly revert back to your original, polarized language, then I’d encourage you to face this reality head-on. In that case my advice changes. Life is short. If your moral code and ethics permit it, it may be time to end this relationship on your terms while you are still somewhat safe to do so. For more depth on how and when to do this, I highly recommend the book Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud.
I certainly welcome any and all responses/alternatives to what I’ve said above.
Please keep your questions coming! Feel free to be as general or as specific as you like; I will tweak them for a general audience. Please send them here.
Bruce grew up in a middle class family in the Akron, Ohio area that, like many families, was deeply affected by a loved one’s mental illness. Overcoming these daily challenges led to the resiliency and resourcefulness that helped prepare him to lead others as an adult.
Bruce counts himself blessed to share his life with his wife Donna and their three wonderful children: daughters Kelly and Kara, and son Kirk. As time permits Bruce enjoys golf, writing and learning how to live in the country.