I had a wonderful dinner the other night with a couple that have been married for fifty years. They have raised four children and are still very active. They help with their grandchildren, assist at their daughter’s yoga studio, and manage a thriving business. One of them has even written a book. I wanted to talk to them about their relationship, what has made it work all these years and to share what I learned with all of you.
As they spoke, I heard some things I had heard before but had forgotten. One is that support does not always come equally and what you may want from someone else may not be possible because they just can’t do it right now for a variety of reasons and/or they just do not realize that you need that kind of help. This can apply in personal as well as professional relationships. My father had a famous expression “talk is cheap” which means you can always ask even though you may not be happy with the answer but if you don’t ask, you will never know. Over the years, this has gotten me in some trouble in that I was not prepared for the answer I received but in most cases I was nicely surprised by how the other person responded and got the support I needed (and maybe even more than I needed). In other words, don’t be afraid to hear the word “no” and if so, figure out then how you are going to deal with it.
The second piece of advice they gave me is that the message may not be as important as the way you deliver it. I could relate to this because I tend to keep quiet until I have had enough and then I let it all out in one shot. This usually catches the recipient off guard and although they may agree with what I am saying, I may put them on the defensive because I will say things like “you should of done this…,” you make me feel…,” and “you did not hear me…” Instead a better approach should be to start each sentence with “I” – “I feel that…,” “I am angry because…,” and “I am hurt because…” By taking ownership of our feelings, we are expressing our thoughts and ideas in a way that hopefully will not only be heard but acted on by the other person. By putting someone on the defensive, they will probably shut down and really not listen to what you are trying to convey.
Lastly, it is important to admit when you are wrong. Egos come into play here because no one wants to admit when they have made a mistake. AND if you do admit you are wrong it is important not to downplay it with a caveat i.e. “I know I made a mistake on this report but you gave me too many things to do that day, the sun was in my eyes, the dog died, etc.” Unfortunately we have seen a lot of politicians, business people, and celebrities make big mistakes lately and then try to “cover them up” or make light of them and in some cases they have gotten away with it. That is a bad message for us all and especially our children. To be true to yourself, do the following – admit you are wrong without making excuses, be genuine, and hopefully learn from it so you won’t do it again!
Dinner discussions can be very productive, however, these tips should also be discussed in business settings because it makes for a more harmonious and cohesive work environment. By being more sensitive to the way you act, you can hopefully be able to react better to others and build trusting relationships – both personally and professionally.