How can one beam alone support a house?
-- CHINESE PROVERB
At one point in my career I worked in a large high-technology company where I found myself at the center of a maelstrom of conflicting management styles in one of the departments where I was a senior staff member. Jack, the vice president in charge of the department, had a no-nonsense, directive -- even confrontational -- style. He was viewed by the majority of his staff as a micromanager in the extreme and completely insensitive to the people who worked in the department -- particularly those who reported directly to him, although many others in the department also complained of painful interactions with the boss. Sadly, there was more than sufficient evidence to support these views.
After several years of this kind of treatment and several unsuccessful attempts by the senior staff to have Jack address the issues in some meaningful way, resentment and even anger had built to the point that several individuals complained directly to the CEO about their treatment by Jack. Some departing managers made a point of letting the CEO know that they were leaving the company largely as a result of their inability to work with Jack. As a result, the CEO determined that intervention from an outside management consultant was appropriate, and Jack and the entire senior staff began undergoing a series of diagnostic tools and participating in a succession of off-site meetings with the consultant in an effort to resolve the issues.
I was in an interesting position in that, due to unique circumstances, I had two very different relationships with Jack. First, I was a member of his staff and bristled under the same inconsiderate behavior and micromanagement that was affecting the rest of his direct reports. Additionally, however, I was into long-distance running, which was Jack's other passion besides the company. Since we lived in the same neighborhood we had taken to running together on occasion. Jack was a different person on those runs than he was at the office, and I think he leveled more with me about his thoughts and feelings during those runs than he ever had with anyone at work.
I discovered on our runs during this period that Jack was making a serious and sincere effort to change the way he was operating at work. We talked about what he was doing and what he might do differently in the future. What I saw at the office in the context of our conversations was significant evidence that Jack was, indeed, making monumental efforts to change his behavior and the relationships he had with his staff members. I don't believe the man could have tried harder to change. I fully expected that things would work out for everyone.
Surprisingly, however, they didn't!
What I saw happening at the office was hard to believe at first. I could see that Jack was changing -- had changed. It was reflected in his tone at staff meetings, in the types of questions he asked, and in the manner in which he requested follow-up or gave out additional assignments. Bizarrely, his staff members seemed to be responding to Jack as though absolutely nothing had changed, and things continued much on the same track they had been on before Jack's transformation -- and this was generally downward. On several occasions I even attempted to talk to some of my peers in an effort to have them see that Jack really was changing and that we should make every effort to support him in succeeding. They simply wouldn't or couldn't believe me.
It was all in vain. In the end, Jack was only able to change his relationship with his staff gradually as the members of his staff were replaced. Most moved to other positions on their own volition, their distaste for Jack's perceived management style having driven them to seek employment in other departments or even outside the company.
At the time, those results seemed puzzling, but as I thought more about it, I realized that not only was the whole situation not surprising, but it should have been anticipated.
Each Of Us Is Like A Unique Puzzle Piece
Over time I've come to understand that relationships are systems, and as such they are subject to systems thinking and systems dynamics. Moreover, we ourselves are the ones who create and maintain those systems. For the most part, we have little inducement to change a relational system already in place.
Here is one way to think about the concept of relationships as systems. In our relationships with others -- family, friends, housemates, neighbors, co-workers, and so on -- each of us is like a unique puzzle piece. As we move into relationship with another person, together we "negotiate" the shape of the border between our respective puzzle pieces to something that will work for both of us. We may adjust the shape of our puzzle piece a bit; they may adjust theirs a bit.
At some point a subconscious arrangement is made in which each party understands how his puzzle piece fits into the other. This "negotiation" takes place using many parameters, including conversation, observation, interaction, past experience, and reputation. The resulting border may not be optimal for either or both parties because to some extent it will take into account such elements as the underlying basis for the relationship itself, the actual or perceived power level of each individual, and personal traits and idiosyncrasies such as each individual's degree of confidence, self-image, and level of self-esteem.
For example, I may submit myself to a puzzle-piece border relationship with my manager that allows him to yell at me "because he's the boss" when I would not allow such a situation as part of the border relationship with anyone else in my life. As I said earlier, these are compromised positions that are rarely optimal for either party.
Think Of Yourself As The Central Puzzle Piece
We do this to some extent with everyone in our lives. You can begin to think of yourself as the central puzzle piece in a system of such relationship models, each of which has been subconsciously negotiated with you so the other person knows the parameters of how to respond to you and you understand how to respond to the other person. The longer any relationship is in existence the more concrete the border between the puzzle pieces becomes.
The truth is that we train others to respond to our behaviors in a particular way. We do this with others, and others do this with us, because first, it's easy, and second, for the most part, it works. It allows us to keep some degree of consistency in our relationships with others that permits us to keep life and its necessary projects moving forward with a minimum of disruption.
Problems occur, however, when one member of any relationship -- Jack, for example -- decides to make substantive changes in his or her behavior. The people whose puzzle pieces border on those of the person who wishes to change his behavior simply won't allow it! In the world of interpersonal relationships, this is tantamount to removing a central piece from a completed picture puzzle and attempting to replace it with a differently shaped piece. It won't work! Indeed, from the perspectives of those puzzle pieces bordering on the now-missing piece, the removed piece is still there! The shape of the missing piece is now defined by the pieces that bordered on it.
The Mind Sees What It Believes
What happens is that we get stuck in our pictures of how someone is -- indeed, how that person has actually trained us to think about him or her -- and we continue to respond to him or her as though there have been no changes. In other words, Jack's staff members could not see the new Jack because the old Jack filled all the spaces in their experiential memories. They were all reacting to the pictures in their heads that they carried about Old Jack and not responding to New Jack as he was in real time.
This is yet another example of the power of the truth stated by Mary Baker Eddy in her nineteenth-century classic, Science and Mind and Key to the Scriptures, "The mind sees what it believes and then believes what it sees."
After some time, the lesson I gathered from the situation with Jack and his staff was very clear: If you don't get people to support you in changing, they will support you in being the same!
There needs to be an open renegotiation of the borders. This will result in the people around you supporting you with your intention to change rather than resisting your attempts to change and sub-consciously undermining you because they are continuing to see you as you were rather than as you now are. Since we train the people around us to respond to us in particular ways based on how we are, it's really up to us to retrain them when we want or need to change how we are being.
Enlisting The Support Of The People Around You
You will be much more successful at making core-level life changes if you enlist the support of the people around you -- those whose puzzle pieces border on yours in the variety of arenas that make up your life. It is difficult to attempt this alone, and it would be foolish to try.
People won't intentionally get in your way, but human nature is human nature, and most people have difficulty recognizing on their own that someone is making a concerted effort to change. Indeed, my experience is they don't remember even when I make a point to tell them, and I'm forced to remind them: "Remember? This is how it is now."
Very frequently our response to the present is a function of our experiences of the past. Past experiences can be so strong and have made such an impression on us -- perhaps merely by consistent repetition -- that it completely overwhelms anything contrary to its "truth" that may he happening in the present.
If you want to avoid the situation that Jack found himself dealing with, it will be necessary for you to discover those people who are relying on you not to change and then enroll them in the change you want to make. It will take repeated communication -- probably a good deal of it.
You will have to think your way through this initially. Consider one arena of your life -- say, work -- and think about your puzzle piece in relation to those of the others in your workplace with whom you have significant interaction: your manager, peers, staff, customers, vendors, and so on. How have you trained those people to respond to you in the past? What will you need to communicate to each one to give you the best opportunity to effect a change in each relationship?
Recognize that there may be as many individual communications necessary as there are people whose puzzle pieces border on yours. Do this for every arena in which you intend to change your behavior.
You might consider creating a written matrix in each arena showing each person's name in one column, some words that describe the relationship you have now with this person in the second column, and the words that describe the relationship you want to create in the third column. Going through this written exercise is also likely to suggest a plan of action for communication with each person, which will grease the wheels for relational change.
Changing Our Habits Disrupts The Status Quo
We have our habits, you see, and then others build their own habits in dealing with us to some major degree dependent on ours. We cannot change our habits without disrupting the status quo, and people will resist such a disruption by the easiest mechanism available, which is usually denial. In these situations, denial often means not seeing that anything different has occurred and continuing with life just as it was.
There is also an important side benefit to discussing your proposed changes with other people in your life: accountability. I am a big believer in being held accountable by others. It's amazing how much I can accomplish when I know that someone is going to ask me if I did what I said I was going to do.
For example, as I'm writing this, it's very late -- past midnight. I've been at my desk since sometime early this morning -- before six o'clock -- and it would be quite easy for me to go to bed, particularly since I have an early start and a fairly full schedule tomorrow. However, I told Kim, who has been my focus partner for several years, that I would finish this chapter today, and so that's what I'm doing. She is going to ask me about it first thing the day after tomorrow when we talk next because that's what we do for each other. In fact, that is the main purpose of our relationship as focus partners. And so, I'm pushing through and getting this assignment finished -- something I might not have done if I were accountable only to myself for doing it.
In much the same way, the people in your life who would have naturally resisted your attempts to change can instead be enrolled to assist you in achieving your goal to change. Tell them what habitual behavior you want to change and what you want to change it to and then give them permission to call you on it when you are doing something other than what you said you want to be doing. You can even give them the exact words to use that will signal to you that they are doing exactly what you have asked them to do.
By bringing those around you into roles that support your intended change, you eliminate the possibility that they will become obstacles to your success. Rather, you make them part of the process which will ensure that you succeed.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. ©2003.
Become A Life Balance Master
by Ric Giardina.
Do you feel as if you’re perpetually juggling too much in life? Keeping your life in balance need not be a daunting task. Whether your life is just a little out of kilter or in terrible shape, Ric Giardina will help you take more control and create the life that you want. Become a Life Balance Master offers a practical, accessible, results-driven system to guide you away from a chaotic, reactionary existence to a calm, deliberate, and focused way of life.
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About the Author
RIC GIARDINA is the founder and president of The Spirit Employed Company, a management consulting and training firm that offers keynote addresses and other programs on authenticity, balance, community, and discipline. Ric is the author of Your Authentic Self: Be Yourself at Work and a book of poetry called Threads of Gold.
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