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Agreeing to disagree is always a cop-out!

How many times have you seen the following scenario?

A team meets to discuss issues that are critical to the organization’s future. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the leader tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”

Such meetings are worse than a waste of time: they actually damage the organization, which is then no closer to making the necessary decisions and assuming responsibility for them. People have stayed within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.

This happens because leaders lack one or more of the following attributes: courage, an understanding of their role as leader, and the ability to powerfully manage conversations.

True leaders know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They are able to elevate their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences to align with the collective wisdom of the group. They instill in their teams a real commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.

There is never a justification to leave a conversation agreeing to disagree. It is always a cop-out. Of course, some topics are complex and may need a number of meetings to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand. And, the cost of lack of decisiveness, accountability, and follow-through is cynicism, resignation and stagnation.

Achieving extraordinary results requires the ability to align on goals. Agreeing to disagree precludes that. Organizations that achieve 100 per cent alignment behind a goal that is 80 per cent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are divided behind a perfect goal. Compromise too often means that some of the people are 100 per cent behind one point of view and others are zero. How motivated are those zero per cent people to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so.”

Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. Making choices means eliminating alternatives. But when team members do find the courage to make tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving that others are wrong.

If an entire team is behind one direction – even if it is only 80 per cent correct – if they truly align, commit to a direction, and backstop each other, it is astounding what can happen. Individuals are then free to stake out a much more powerful future – and in my experience, they almost always do.

What has been your experience? 

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.

Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 3): Starting From Scratch

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

Over the past two weeks, we have examined the first two steps for generating this kind of breakthrough. The first step is that both parties must genuinely want to take the relationship to a new, better place and commit to having the necessary conversations. The second step is to have an honest, open, rational conversation about the past so that you can complete the past and “zero it out” so you can start over.

This week, we’ll discuss the third step of the conversation: generating a rich, exciting possibility for the future of your relationship.

Envision a New Future

This part of the conversation is about expressing and declaring what you both want — how you want your relationship to play out going forward.

This is not about creating a plan of action or making promises to each other (that’s step four, which we’ll get into next week). At this point, you’re simply expressing what you want the next level of your relationship to look like and what you both hope to create together.

I picked a few words deliberately here. First is “create.” In this step you are creating the new future of your relationship. You can only create something if you start from nothing, or zero. That is why the previous step of completing the past and returning to zero, or nothing, is so critical. If you don’t complete the past and return to zero, whatever you try and create will be on top of incomplete and unresolved baggage — and it will only be a matter of time before something will trigger the baggage again, and the resentment and lack of trust will re-emerge. If you have done the previous step genuinely and effectively, this step will be very exciting, stimulating, liberating and empowering.

The other word that is important is “want.” In this step you are expressing what you want the relationship to look and feel like: what it could be, what you’d like it to be. When people express their desire, there are very few limitations to the conversation and you can literally create whatever both people want.

Build Excitement for the Future

In the last step of the conversation — where you discussed the past — I suggested taking turns and resisting the urge to interrupt or comment on what the other person has to say. This third phase of the conversation is a different type of conversation — it doesn’t have to be so structured. Ideally, you will build upon what each other says by going through a lot of back and forth.

For example, one person might start off by saying, “You know, I would really like our relationship to be open, easy and straightforward. You are so good at bringing people together and getting them to work together, and I am so good at addressing issues and conflict resolution. If we could work together, we could really do some great things. I would love for us to be able to work like this.” Halfway through, the other person will respond by saying, “You know what? I agree with you. I feel exactly the same way. Remember what happened a year ago when we brought these customers together and they were upset about our quality of delivery? I did a great job getting them to the meeting. But you did such a great job of defusing the tensions and getting a dialogue going that led to our best year ever. If we had done it together in all these other situations, can you imagine how great the results might have been? I would love to work with you in this manner, with no tensions and complications …” “Yes, I agree ….”

This conversation will be highly interactive and energizing, and the two of you will get infected and inspired by each other’s expressions of “What if …,” “How about …,” or “Wouldn’t it be great if ….” The energy will spiral upward. Eventually, both of you will be left in a space of: “What do we do with all this great possibility and excitement?” That’s when you know you’ve just completed the third step of the conversation.

Next week, we’ll examine the fourth and last step — where you cement the new possibilities you’ve created for the relationship through concrete practices, actions and new rules of engagement for the future of your relationship.

Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 2): Zeroing Out the Past

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

Last week, I outlined four steps for generating this kind of breakthrough. The first step is that both parties must genuinely want to take the relationship to a new, better place and commit to having the necessary conversations. This week, we’ll examine the second step: Complete the history of the relationship by fully getting each other’s reality and experiences. This requires an honest, open, rational conversation about the past.

Setting the Stage for Change

Start by setting the time and place for the conversation. Obviously, if possible, do it in person. However, if it’s not possible, don’t delay the conversation. Do it via phone or any other platform, like Skype or FaceTime. If you think you can only achieve breakthroughs when sitting in front of someone, that is not true. I have had many breakthrough conversations via phone, and I have seen others do the same. On the other hand, I have seen too many people avoid and procrastinate the difficult conversation because they felt they couldn’t do it in person. My experience is that most of the time it’s better to have the conversation not in person than not having it at all.

The purpose of this second step is to fully understand each other’s reality, experiences, perceptions and feelings regarding the history of the relationship.

It’s best to take turns. One person communicates while the other person listens, and then you switch sides. Do not interrupt each other unless something is unclear and you need clarification. There should be no pushback or arguments because you are sharing feelings, perceptions and experiences, not facts and truths.

For example: In one of my sessions, person A and B were having a conversation to generate a breakthrough after a falling-out that occurred a year earlier, which caused them to stop trusting each other and collaborating. Person A was expressing his feelings to person B, and he said, “I was really offended by your comment in the meeting we had last year. I felt dismissed, disrespected and demeaned.” That evening over dinner, when I was asking people how their conversations went, person B said to me: “It went well, but I still disagree with how person A took my comments in the meeting a year ago. My words were not offensive, dismissive or disrespectful…” It took me a while to make him see that whether he agreed or disagreed with person A’s feelings was irrelevant and that the real opportunity in the conversation was to fully stand in person A’s world, get how he has been feeling, and get that how he has been feeling is in fact valid. Person B’s reaction is common. That is why I always advise people who are pursuing breakthrough conversations of this type to truly listen, without judgment or defensiveness, and genuinely seek to understand. This way, they are not pointing fingers, assigning blame. Instead, they are sharing their reality. It’s not about who is right or wrong. Instead, it’s about understanding each other so you can move forward.

State Your Feelings, Not the Facts

Sometimes in order to complete the past people have to discuss the events that took place in the relationship. This is often a more challenging topic as most people, especially when they have baggage and emotions, don’t do a good job distinguishing between the facts and their interpretations or feelings that followed what happened. In addition, many times people simply remember things differently, but everyone is convinced their version is the truth. And when people are at odds with each other, they tend to feel that the other person is maliciously lying about the situation.

But when people really want to have a breakthrough, it is easier for them to realize that often it is less important to agree on the facts. Sometimes what is equally or even more important is to understand and accept how the other person experienced what happened.

For instance, someone might be upset with another person because they are always late to appointments. They may say, “You are always late. You don’t respect my time, or me for that matter.” The other person may say, “That’s not true. I was only late six out of the last ten times. You are exaggerating.” I often coach people on this. It doesn’t matter if it was 10/10 or 6/10. It still left the other person feeling disrespected. In order to have a breakthrough, you need to understand and accept how your being late — whether six or ten times — affected the other person.

When people can accept the validity of each other’s reality — the feelings, not the facts — that’s when the magic begins.

Here are some angles you could use to share your reality with the other person:

  • “My experience and feelings about you and our relationship has been …”
  • “I’ve always felt your view about me and the relationship is … and that has made me feel …”
  • “I started to feel this way when …” (share the event that triggered it, if you recall)
  • “When this happened, I felt …”
  • “Ever since, it has affected me in the following ways …”
  • “It has prevented me from doing the following things …”
  • “It has cost both of us the following tolls …”

Listen Generously

The only way this conversation will work is if you are both willing to close your mouths while the other person is speaking, so that you can open your ears and open your heart.

When each speaker finishes talking, the listener should say “thank you.” You are expressing your gratitude for the other person’s honesty, courage and willingness to share his/her feelings.

By approaching the conversation with gratitude, you are more likely to listen, rather than simply wait for your turn to talk. For instance, I’ve noticed that when people raise their hands to speak in meetings, they tend to shut their ears. Even if during the time their hand is raised their issue is addressed or resolved, they don’t hear it because they’re in waiting-for-my-turn mode.

The words “thank you” tend to open people’s hearts so they can let the other person’s truth in, acknowledge it, own it and live in peace with it. Expressing gratitude is also a generous way to acknowledge the other person’s courage and commitment — and the validity of his/her feelings. This in turn encourages more sharing and communicating.

Get to Zero

After both people have spoken, and if you’ve both genuinely shared and listened without getting defensive, what you will be left with is a sense of emptiness, “nothing” — a clean slate — and the question “So, now what?”

Only when you get to this place, when there’s no fight left, can you zero out the past. What will naturally follow is a new sense of possibility, hope and excitement for the future of your relationship.

So, what do you do from here? How do you build something new from “nothing”? Stay tuned for my next blog.

Having Effective Conversations to Build or Restore Trust in Any Relationship

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Step Two: Complete the history of the relationship by fully getting each other’s reality and experiences.
  3. Step Three: Create rich and exciting new possibilities for the future of the relationship.
  4. 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.