Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

Starting to Change a Difficult Relationship

Difficult Relationship 2What can you do if you find yourself in a difficult relationship with a key stakeholder? Let’s say it’s a peer, for example, over whom you have no authority but whose cooperation you need to be successful? Here’s an example from my coaching practice. “Jason,” an executive in a high-tech company, was in a new situation, and he just wasn’t getting along with a key player he really needed to work with.  Before we started, he had tried to improve things, but was clearly frustrated at the lack of progress.

“I guess you just can’t control how the other person reacts,” he said. This led to a conversation about the mindset that lay behind his attempts so far. He realized he was trying to “make” the other person change, because he was impatient to get beyond the difficult interactions. And, to be honest, he’d been assuming that his counterpart was the primary cause of their poor relationship.

As we talked, Jason realized that he was acting from an either/or “control or give-up” mindset. Stepping back from that mindset, he saw that, while he could not control the other person, what he could control were his own reactions and behaviors in the relationship. By taking full responsibility for his side of these interactions, he could potentially influence the other person also to take a different approach. In fact, he had already been constantly influencing his counterpart through his previous reactions and behaviors. As he shifted from a mindset of blame to one of learning, he began to see that he often did things that, inadvertently, influenced his counterpart to behave in ways he didn’t like.

It became clear to Jason that his mindset was pivotal in determining whether he could bring his best to improving the relationship. After some reflection, he made a real mental and attitudinal shift. First, he made a commitment to himself to persist in bringing his best to the relationship. He knew that this would require the courage to face difficulty, the humility to see how he had been contributing to their not-great interactions, and the patience that comes from accepting that he could influence his counterpart, but could not control him.

In addition to communicating his own views more effectively, he saw that increased empathy – the ability to understand the pressures and concerns that drove the other person’s actions – would be an important ally in this journey. This shift in mindset – done once and persistently repeated – is just the first step in doing what’s possible to improve a relationship. But it’s the foundation from which all else becomes possible.

Image41Bill Joiner is co-author of the award-winning book, Leadership Agility.  He is President and a Principal Consultant at ChangeWise, a firm with international reach that specializes in leadership consulting, coaching and training; team development; and organizational change consulting.

Follow Bill Joiner on Twitter – @leaderagility

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