Wait – What if you AREN’T happy to see a key colleague – what then?

Wait – What if you AREN’T happy to see a key colleague – what then?

May 13, 2019 News

Thanks for the comments and emails about last week’s blog on Aunt Linda and leaders like her who convey in words and behavior, “I’m so glad you’re here.” I am so glad you are here today with Read2Lead!

In contrast to last week’s positive message, sometimes we get into situations where the last thing we want to say is, “I’m glad you’re here.”  One of the reasons I am so committed to teaching and learning about “Leadingx2” is that I have not only seen how LX2 can make a pair and their teams SOAR, but I have also seen what it’s like when people don’t lead well by two. It’s painful!  I have watched school principals and presidents who each wished the other would just disappear, and I’ve watched their interpersonal animosity infect others in the school community. In my 20’s I worked for a professor who I was never “glad to see” and who wished – or came to wish – I was never there.  In my 30s, I had a deputy who was so unhappy I was there, that they put knives in my back.

This topic demands two parts, one today.  So today, I invite you into an honest inquiry into the dynamics of one-on-one conflict, so next week I can offer specific, actionable ways to dissipate conflict; in order to be able to say to another and hear back from them, “I’m glad you’re here.” This healing move is perhaps the hardest of all human moves, it is also perhaps the most rewarding and powerfully bonding.  It’s virtually impossible to make this move if you don’t have the intellectual courage to understand the dynamics that create and sustain conflict.

There are two sides to every story.  Captain Obvious, I am!  You know this truism, I know this, your grandma and grandkids know this. Yet there are three corollaries that we must respect.  I invite you to test them against any ongoing one-on-one conflict in your life:  Please bring to mind a child, spouse or ex-spouse, parent, boss, co-worker, or direct report about whom you would rarely or never want to say “I’m glad you’re here.” Let’s call the two Alex and Bailey for convenience:

Corollary 1:   In nearly every relationship where Alex is not happy to see Bailey, it is also true that Bailey is not happy to see Alex.  Bailey may be unaware of Alex’s aversion towards them and their aversion toward Alex. But the reciprocity is almost always there. With the Bailey in your life, is it not true that Bailey is also unexcited to see you?  (If you disagree, check this footnote* for the rare exceptions.) I have worked both sides of these fault lines, and the pain and fear is almost always on both sides.

    Corollary 2:  Humans invariably blame the other. When any “I” is involved in one-to-one conflict that person tells themselves and would tell you if you asked:  “If I am not glad to see them, it’s because they did something to me.” Or, as we said as kids to our parents, teachers, etc:  “S/he started it.”  Or, we support our story with comparative fault: “Sure, I might have done X, but they did 3X to me in return.” Or, “I tried to repair it, but they didn’t want to.”

    So, although corollary 1 says that reciprocity is nearly universal, corollary 2 says it’s nearly universal that we blame the other.  My story is (more) true, more accurate, obvious, logical.  And when I tell my friends, they almost always take my side!

    Corollary 3: The two separate stories tend to grow more rigid and irreconcilable. I had a “story” that one of my children was “confrontational” and “strong willed.” As a result, it was nearly impossible for me to see their behavior any other way.  Their story, in turn, was that I was “untrusting of them and controlling.”  At the beginning of any difference, we would “retreat” into our stories about the other and reinforce our sense that they were the problem and we were the victim. We spent about 15 years during which our relationship was dictated and dominated by our respective and irreconcilable “stories.”  The Landmark training has a term for this; “we are always, already listening.”  When our defense systems are on alert to threat, attack, etc., we tighten against the other’s intrusions the second they “bleep” onto the furthest outside reaches of our radar screen.  The last thing we are about to say is, “I’m glad you’re here.”

    That child and I escaped our mutually exclusive stories. Like a broken bone, we have healed stronger.  Likewise with my wife. Likewise with my writing partner.  Without truth-telling about these corollaries, we would never have healed the rifts.

    Next week, some thoughts about what we can DO, but sometimes AWARENESS is a powerful doing of its own. Perhaps you can become aware in your partnerships of how easily your radar screen can be activated, of how your story is trapping you, and the pain of separation is a reciprocal pain.  Honesty with self is the cornerstone of

    Leading with your best self, and in turn Leading by Two!

    *If the conflict seems to only be felt by one of the two, I would suggest that these are the possible explanations:

    1. Bailey is such a positive person that they don’t even realize Alex is upset and that they could be doing something to cause that upset.  And/or
    2. Bailey is so socio-emotionally unaware of communication signals that they don’t know Alex is upset. And/or
    3. Alex is so good at “letting go” or “faking” they’re not upset, that Bailey just doesn’t (consciously) see it.
    4. Despite these seeming exceptions, note that we don’t need to be consciously aware of negative feelings to act upon those feelings. Our intuitions, and our heightened unconscious awareness of threats, can cause us to avoid people (or “fight” with them) even though we have no conscious awareness.

      About the author

      Dan Mulhern: Dan Mulhern is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of leadership and organizational culture.