Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 4): Rules of Future Engagement

Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 4): Rules of Future Engagement

How do you take a challenging relationship — personal or professional — and transform it into one built on trust, respect and intimacy?

Over the last three weeks, we have examined the first three steps for generating this kind of breakthrough:

  1. Both parties must authentically desire a transformation and commit to having the conversations necessary to take the relationship to a new or better place.
  2. Have an honest, open, rational conversation about the history in order to drive closure, complete the past and bring the relationship back to the space of nothing (zero).
  3. Generate rich, exciting possibilities for the future of your relationship.

This week, we’ll cover the fourth and final step: Turn the new possibilities into clear actions and practices that take the relationship to the next level.

Turn the Possibilities into Reality
This phase of the conversation is about cementing the new possibilities you’ve generated for your relationship with clear promised actions and practices. If the last step was all about creating rich possibilities, this phase is about narrowing the playing field and committing to specific actions.

Most people like to keep commitments ambiguous because it leaves wiggle room, which allows them to avoid the potential stress of having to do what they say. The problem with vague promises is that they leave a lot of room for failure and disappointment. So, my coaching to people who are in this step is always to keep the promises simple, clear and rigorous.

  • “Simple” because it is better to commit to fewer actions and really keep them well than to have a list of 20 things — I call it the “should” list, the things we should do — and not follow through with most of them. In fact, I recommend making the fewest promises that make the most difference.
  • “Clear” because different people at times have different views about what certain things mean. And I have seen so many breakdowns in trust that were caused or made worse by people believing everything was clear only to discover through the other person’s actions and behaviors that this was not the case.
  • “Rigorous” because especially when people turn a new page, it is particularly important, in my experience, to manage promises and expectations in a rigorous way. This is a time of heightened sensitivity. It takes many conversations and much effort to give a relationship a new chance but only one screw-up to ruin the progress and take things backward.

Actions and practices could look like:

  • “Let’s agree that every Tuesday, we’ll meet for half an hour to share our key objective of the week, especially the anticipated challenges. Agreed? Great!”
  • “Every time we have a presentation, we’ll first have a one-on-one conversation to ensure we are on the same page and have the same message. Agreed?”
  • “Every time you hear some feedback or some information that could be of use to me, you’ll share it, and I’ll do the same thing. Promise? Good!”
  • “Whenever I do or say something that upsets you, please promise me that you will come straight to me to talk about it. And I promise to listen without getting defensive. Because if I do these things, it’s because I am unaware, not on purpose. OK?”

In Conclusion

Now you are ready to move forward — to change what wasn’t working and to begin building the trust and intimacy necessary to work together well.

To recap, what did we do? We didn’t react to a problem. We didn’t react to an issue. We completed the issue, took it to zero, and then created a new possibility for the future. Rather than reacting to the past, we proactively created the future we want from nothing.

While this might not always be easy to do, the principle and steps are quite simple, and they are based on common sense. Just keep these four last tips in mind throughout your conversations:

First, be authentic. Stay true to your intention. Don’t sell out.

Second, be courageous enough to share your feelings and generous enough to listen as the other shares theirs. Let it in.

Third, stay with it, even if it’s messy or you get lost in the conversation. Go back to your initial intention, and resist the urge to get defensive. Remember, this is about feelings, and whether you agree or disagree is irrelevant.

Lastly, Be smart, not right. I think this is self-explanatory.

If you keep these things in mind and work the four steps, you will be able to transform and/or elevate any challenging, dysfunctional or functional relationship to a new level of trust, partnership and affinity.

I would love to hear your experiences in using this — whether you were successful or not. This will give me an opportunity to provide more support. Please comment on my blog.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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