There are some people with whom we easily build trusting, productive relationships — people with whom we connect and take our relationships to the next level without much trouble or controversy. But there are other relationships — personal and professional — that require more work, either because past dealings or misunderstandings have created mistrust or animosity, or because different personalities make it harder sometimes to find common ground. Sometimes there is a problem in the relationship that we need to address or react to. But at other times, even if the relationship is functioning sufficiently, we want to take it to a higher, better level.
Communication: The Key to Transforming Relationships
Trust, relationships, partnerships: These are just different ways of talking about the same thing — a level of intimacy and trust necessary in order to connect, interact and collaborate well with others. This intimacy lives in communication and is shaped by communication. It gets built through communication, and it can be destroyed by communication, or a lack thereof.
Over the next few weeks, I will share my thoughts about how to take any challenging relationship and transform it into a genuine partnership based on trust, respect and understanding. I will also cover how to take relationships that are functional to the next level. The principles for both scenarios are the same. The application has to be personalized to each person, relationship and circumstance.
The Four Steps for Transforming Any Relationship
There are four steps that if you follow will enable you to significantly transform or improve any dysfunctional or functional relationship no matter what the starting point. The more you understand these steps as principles or spaces to navigate the conversation through, the more confident and effective you will be at applying them to any circumstance:
- Step One: Align both parties on the need for improvement in the relationship and the level of trust, the desire to achieve these improvements, and the commitment to invest the time to achieve them.
- Step Two: Complete the history of the relationship by fully getting each other’s reality and experiences.
- Step Three: Create rich and exciting new possibilities for the future of the relationship.
- Step Four: Turn the new possibilities into clear actions, practices and results that take the relationship to the next level.
Get on the Same Page
The first step for generating a new level of trust in the relationship is that both parties genuinely want to transform the relationship and are willing to commit the time, energy and emotion to the conversations that can make this happen. You can’t force people to do this. It’s got to be authentic. This doesn’t mean that people know how to achieve the desired outcome. It means they want it.
Create a Common Interest
It’s always easier if both sides want this and there is no need for anyone to convince anyone else. But, as we all know very well, that is often not the case. So, in order to get people on the same page, there sometime needs to be an explicit dialogue about “Why do it?” “What for?” “Why now?” and/or “What’s in it for me?”
Consider a contrarian view: There is a benefit and cost associated with having a prolonged dysfunctional or dissatisfying relationship. The benefit is typically status quo, avoidance of conflict and uncomfortable conversations. When operating in the benefit mode, people tend to blame others rather than take responsibility for the situation. This is often accompanied with some self-righteousness, which could sound like, “Why should I take the first step?” “It’s all because of them;” “I’ve tried to address this before but they didn’t cooperate;” etc.
On the other side, the cost typically includes stress and loss of joy and satisfaction. And overall it drains energy to stay upset, incomplete and/or dissatisfied in a relationship for a long time. Sometimes people become cynical or numb in the relationship or about relationships in general. I had a single woman friend who every time I asked her how her love life was going, she would tell me the same story about how “all men are selfish and only care about one thing…” Self-righteousness is costly in itself.
So, when discussing the need or opportunity for change in the relationship, you can look for the areas of cost. These will give you opportunities for areas of common interest.
We all know the saying: “It takes two to tango.” However, I believe that when it comes to relationships and trust, “It takes one to take two to tango.” So, if you are the one initiating the transformation in the relationship, don’t get distracted, discouraged or fall into blame — take responsibility for enrolling the other person in the breakthrough. Listen to their concerns. Swallow your pride. Acknowledge them as valid, even if they are not factually true. And respond to them from your commitment, not reaction.
Sometimes people don’t want to move on because they don’t trust the other person’s sincerity. So, declare your sincerity, even if you have done it before. Sometimes they feel they’ve tried to address issues before and the other person wasn’t sincere, didn’t listen, wasn’t open to what they had to say, didn’t take ownership or responsibility for past transgressions, etc. So, stay open, own their experience of your past attempts as valid, apologize if needed and express your sincere commitment to making it work this time.
This first step is the ticket into the game. Without a shared desire to elevate the relationship, the next steps are irrelevant. While it takes courage to take a relationship to the next level, especially if the starting point is dysfunctional, isn’t it “better to fail giving it your all, rather than give up without trying at all?”
Stay tuned for more next week.