Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tuesday morning
A CEO called me early this morning. He was frustrated. His VP of sales 'wasn't getting it done.' She spent too much time on 'housekeeping' items - things that needed to be done around the office but that took her time away from selling product.

He said 'I tried to explain to her that her numbers were what kept us alive. Without her meeting her numbers the best run office in the world would be out of business.'

I coached him this way: she reads your mood before she hears your words. Your mood is angry and defeatist. Your words though rational can't be heard within the context of your angry mood.'

I thought of marriage, mine and others. Communication that is based in judgment, demands, diagnosis or theories about the other is communication destined for failure. When I take 100% responsibility for my own feelings and move toward changing an angry mood to a proposal for positive action I have increased my chances of being heard and my partners chances of being in relationship with me.

The CEO did this: he worked on solving the issues that got the attention of his VP of sales. He proactively set in motion specific ways to consistently address those issues. He removed her from 'the loop' of maintaining order at the office. Then he coached her in focusing on their agreed upon goals showing her a pathway in which she could succeed.

Leadership works in relationship. If you abandon your own self indulgence, and focus on what your partner needs you can create a situation in which you get what you need and they do as well.

"I saw a boy standing in a field of grass, late spring with a warm breeze and a horse feeding a short distance off. Warm sun, occassional flowers among the grass."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Curiosity, Pathway to Intimate Conversation

Curiosity, Pathway to Intimate Conversation

Many of us assume we know our partners – a lot of comedy is built around that premise – but we really don’t. Some of us say that our partners are unknowable, a line frequently spoken by men gathered, say, at a social event.

But what if you changed the assumption? What if you got that you don’t know this person you’re partnering with. What if you looked at them with new eyes saying to yourself ‘who is she?’ What if you began a conversation with him knowing that you don’t know who he is, what he is going to say, how he is going to react to what you are saying – what if you surrendered to the fact that there’s a lot to be discovered?

It would change your world. Assumptions are a firewall to intimate conversation. Assumptions keep every day looking a lot like yesterday. Assumptions are self reinforcing and, they tend to be self fulfilling prophecies.

Here’s a little story about assumptions. Within the New York City school system, some years ago, a research project was created to test the power of assumptions. A grade school class of low achievers and a grade school class of high achievers was chosen. The records of the low achievers were switched with the records of the high achievers at the end of the school year and given to their new teachers.

Guess what happened. The low achievers began to achieve more and the high achievers declined. The teacher’s expectations were driving student performance.

In any relationship assumptions and expectations are far more powerful than we imagine. Many assumptions we carry about our partners were learned long before we met our partners. Also we have ‘grafted’ on many relationship expectations from others that are not really our own. Our marriages stagnate and die because of this. We get weary trying to convince our partners we are not who they think we are.

I coach executives and executive teams. Recently an executive blamed the low performance of his company on ‘the business climate.’ I asked him why several other companies I knew that were in the same business and therefore in the same ‘climate’ were thriving. He looked at me and paused, then laughed. “Got me,” he said.

His assumptions were blinding him to the real issues in his company as well as the blind spots in his leadership.

Here’s a deadly relational sequence for you that will demonstrate the lethality of assumptions. If you want to see it graphically, rent the (now old) movie “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf?”

First make your assumptions about your partner.
Then criticize your partner for what you believe to be true about him/her.
Following your criticism you’ll probably be attacked. Defend yourself.
After your defense fails, shut down.
Within the shut down you can now show contempt for your partner.
Stonewall against any and all vulnerability.

This is called the cascading effects of making assumptions. It is a demonstration, a workshop, in the remarkable consequences of choosing to be unconscious in a relationship.

What’s the cure?
1. Admit that you do not know what you think you know about who your partner is.
2. Take 100% responsibility for your own attitudes, feelings and theories about your marriage.
3. Invite your partner into an “assumption free zone” conversation where you intentionally ask each other about values, beliefs, challenges, feelings etc.
4. Stop. Look. and Listen to what they say. Make no judgments. Decide to believe them. Use words like “really?” and “wow” and “tell me more.”

Curiosity is an attitude of love. Done right it is respectful, engaging, tender and sexy. Try it.