When was the last time you walked up to someone and said a few words of appreciation? When was it that someone walked up to you providing you with words of appreciation?
Come to think of it, as we have grown older, we see very few, in fact zero words of appreciation around us. The whole world seems to be in a critical mode. Criticizing something or the other; some times colleagues, family, friends, government, nations or the whole world. Open the Newspaper or switch to any News channel, you find criticism spread all over.
Criticism is a negative energy. It puts a lot of stress on people. It creates negative vibes/vibrations for you and others. It changes the whole climate around you. For example, when you find a boss who is always pushing people around, criticizing them for whatever they do, finding faults in everything and who is difficult to please, you will find that the climate in that team and around him will be highly stressed. The motivation levels will be low. People will be guarded. Negative energies will be felt by whoever comes in contact with such a team.
Isn’t it the same with parents and parenting as well? Children of parents who are difficult to please and who never received positive strokes, grow up to be people with low self-esteem. They also find it difficult to assert themselves, which lands them in a lot of trouble when they grow up. I’ve seen such kids grow up to be adults who go looking for appreciation, almost begging for it from anyone and everyone who is willing to give it to them. They are always wanting to please others even at the cost of their own lives. It does make them vulnerable to manipulation. They end up feeling a sense of worthlessness.
Unfortunately, most of us have been subjected to and made to believe that criticism is the only way one can improve. It helps people identify their pain areas. It reminds them of their shortcomings, exposes them to their blind spot and will spur them on for higher performance.
I’ve never seen ‘pain’ contributing to a positive movement. Even when you find a movement, it will come with a great deal of stress. Not motivating at all isn’t it?
As opposed to this, why not consider some ‘Appreciation’? It really creates a positive energy. It makes people feel good. It generates positive vibes. It motivates people towards an affirmative action – an action abundant with Joy!.
Let me give an example. Do you remember how you were taught to walk? Each step you took, your parents had a word of appreciation, positive affirmation, which motivated you to take the next baby step and the next and so on.
When you failed in your initial attempts, your parents didn’t reprimand you, criticize you for not walking properly. Instead, they appreciated you for the effort, which generated a lot of positive energy around you. If you have ever seen Dolphins being trained. Have you seen them being whooped for not jumping out of water and passing through the hula-hoop held by their human partner? Would they ever come out of water and perform those acrobatics if the trainers whoop them for not jumping properly? The only way it does what it does is through positive appreciation. You would have seen the trainers feeding the Dolphins a fish each time they did something right. This makes it repeat the act often and with great deal of joy. An appreciation which helps them in their performance.
Appreciation is for me an aphrodisiac for growth and when given in public makes a hell of a difference.
So why not show some appreciation today? To someone who you care about, love or simply want to help grow.
‘Respect’ is what each one of us yearns for in our relationships. Whether its parent-child, husband-wife, employer-employee, friends, colleagues…
‘Respect’ is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. But what exactly is ‘respect’ and how do we build that in our relationship?
Respect means that you recognize that the other person is unique and different. That person has different experiences, opinions and thoughts from you, and that’s ok.
It’s easy to say that you have respect for someone, but acting with respect can be a bit trickier. I want to talk about how? you not just ‘show’ but build respect in your relationship. How you can be ‘mindful’ in your communication?
Firstly it is important for us to understand our actions and reactions in a relationship is what go to show if ‘respect’ exists or not. Let’s take the example of the simple act of listening. You might have experienced at least once while you were listening to someone, midway through that conversation you possibly switched off or already concluded what the speaker is trying to convey. You were probably thinking up your response. This so robs your partner of his/her need to be understood by you. Your response would become much poorer because you never completely understood what the other person wanted to say.
Furthermore if such a conversation continues for a while and both parties react in similar fashion, they would surely end the conversation with little regard or respect for each other.
Similarly, would you have respect for a Doctor who starts writing his prescriptions even before listening to all your problems?
If you start to list all those relationships you carry where you respect the other, you will surely be ranking that person’s ability to listen at the top of the list of behaviors that you like about him/her for you to have respected them person in the first place.
While listening plays a major part in building mutual respect, there are other behaviors too which contribute to building a great relationship and it has to do a lot with acceptance;
Accepting that people are different and unique
Accepting that people do not necessarily see the world the way you see
Accepting the fact that you cannot expect others to be the way you are
Accepting the power and right of others to make their choices
Accepting the right of others to disagree with you
As you can see, it takes small actions or behaviors to help build great respect in a relationship.
What else makes you like and respect others in a relationship? Why not add to the list using the comments?
Showing respect may sound complicated, but it’s really not.
Movies and Media would make us believe that romance is about the grand gestures like spending an exorbitant amount of money on surprise gifts, trips or dates. However, that’s not what keeps a marriage intact. It’s the small everyday actions and exchanges that keep the passion alive in a relationship. Just talking for a while on a daily basis can be key to a happy marriage.
Most often in a relationship each of us look to get our partner’s attention, support and affection. You can either respond by walking towards it or walking away from it. It has been found that those who take a few steps and walk towards their partners tend to have higher levels of satisfaction in their relationships. It simply means that if you regularly pause from your routine and turn towards your partner at the end of each day when they really require to unload and destress, you will likely have a successful marital relationship.
Turning to your partner with many small gestures like calling and checking in on them during a break, or giving them a call on your way back from work; or asking them how the day went for them and listening to their stories without interrupting and judging them can be great for your relationship. These small actions quickly can turn into a habit, which should never be taken for granted. Remember these small moments of gratitude and appreciation your partner for taking the time to pay attention to you can work wonders.
The more you walk towards and with each other, the more you are investing in your emotional bank account. This simply means that as you fill up your emotional bank with positive experiences, you build a cushion to help you maintain your positivity during times of conflict and stress.
The more positive balance you have in your emotional bank account the more you can afford to lose at the time of stress or conflict. What I mean is you won’t be depleted and exhausted and get to emotional bankruptcy soon.
How do you build your emotional bank balance? Simply keep a daily account of your emotional connections with your partner. Give yourself one point each time you walk towards your partner with a small gesture, like a call to check-in, asking how the day went for them, or simply talking to them uninterrupted and listening for 20 minutes. Take away one point if you turned away from them. At the end of the day tally your emotional balance sheet. Is it positive or negative. It’s important to avoid turning this into a competition, instead, you should simply focus on what you can do for your relationship, not on what your spouse is or isn’t doing.
Another way to build up your emotional bank account is to have a conversation each evening about your day. For this to work, both partners must be in the frame of mind to have these conversations. Some are ready to talk as soon as they are back from their work while others may need to unwind a little after the day.
The lockdown does provide you with a great opportunity to start building your emotional bank account and accumulate so much wealth that will stand you in good stead for a lifetime.
So let’s look at what you can do for starters.
Keep aside at least 30 minutes a day for talking – it has to be without any other distraction around like talking while watching TV or doing any other chores at home.
Be curious – show genuine interest by encouraging your partner to talk more, practice active listening
Always maintain eye contact – do not turn away when your partner is talking to you. You might be listening but turning away ends up making your partner feel that you are not interested
Keep your partners interests above your own
Never give advice unless asked for
Keep the conversation positive – this time is not to score any brownie points with each other and a competition. Talk about some good things which you have done together or plan to do. Get into the mood.
Keep all conversation in the ‘We mode’ and not ‘Me mode’. You are in this together
Take turns throughout the conversation
Lastly, remember that marriage is like figure skating pairs. Sometimes you are drawn to your partner while other times you pull away. Every time you do that you contribute positively to the performance. Everyone has different needs, some need connection and others need independence. Even if you and your partner have different needs, your marriage can work if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to talk things through. As in figure skating pairs, while participants put on a show together in partnership, they also allow the time and space for each to showcase their individual moves as well.
To make the championship grade, the figure skating pairs invest a lot of time with each other not just practicing the moves but also in understanding each other well. A rich emotional bank account guarantees a great performance.
Do not make the mistake of assuming that spending physical time with each other during the lockdown is in anyway going to add positively to your emotional bank account. You need to connect on an emotional level. You need to spend time talking.
Are you ready as a pair to invest in your emotional bank account?
Imagine you and your significant other are on a road trip with each having a ‘map’ for navigation.
Now imagine if both are referencing two different maps. It’s easy to guess by now that you would make little progress as most of your time will be spent on coming to an agreement as to which direction you need to take. The whole journey might end up being extremely stressful with no joy whatsoever.
Isn’t it the same for couples as well? Or in any relationship?
How much do you know about your spouse? Perhaps you know exactly what makes them tick, what motivates them, and what makes them truly happy.
Couples who know everything about each other are people who hold a detailed relationship ‘map’. Similar to how a road map tells you how to get to your destination, a ‘relationship map’ helps you know and love your partner. The more detailed the map, the stronger the love. If you don’t know your partner, how can you love them? Enjoy the journey with them?
I knew of a couple who became distant from each other over the years. The husband ran a highly successful business which had several stresses that came with his work. He used to often work very late and stay overnight in his office having a strong work-life. The consequence was obviously a rocky home life as he spent so little time at home. He didn’t know anything about what his children were up to in school, their progress, how his wife was doing and spent her life waiting for him all day. He had a map all of his own which was quite different from his wife. The result was that he navigated himself quite far away from her, so much so that he bought himself a house very close to his office and started living separately. I can’t figure out why they even continued in the relationship when they had very little in common and referencing two different maps in their journey.
Couples who take the time to establish a detailed relationship map are much better prepared to navigate their life and the up’s and down’s which go with it. For example, the arrival of a baby can at times have a deep impact in the dynamics of a marital relationship and can change the partner’s life in an instant. Some studies have shown that young couples experience sudden dissatisfaction in their relationships after the arrival of a new child in the mix. Why such a difference? Well, those who stayed strong had detailed and common relationship map that kept them from losing their way. The lesson here is that the more you know and understand about your partner, the easier it is to stay connected throughout the often bumpy and exciting road journey called ‘life’.
It’s also important to remember that relationship maps never stay the same. Similar to a google map which alters its route plan based on traffic conditions, like a traffic bottleneck for example, a baby can change the dynamics of the relationship and also alter a partner’s relationship map.
I understood the importance of a relationship map in my own life. My wife and I after a short courtship jumped into marriage. Immediately after, I quit my well paid job to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams. Obviously I had changed the map which I was referring to till then. This put lot of stress on our relationship as both me and my wife now were looking at two completely different maps of our relationship. My wife put in the effort to align herself to the new relationship road map which immensely helped the marital boat steady and on track. Similarly, at the time of marriage, my wife was dedicated to her career however, once she gave birth to our son, she put aside her career to stay home and take care of him. You see, having a baby can change your identity and values. This is incredibly common and my wife was no different. With new priorities, her relationship map changed and it was my turn to realign my own to stay on the same path as her. Our son became an important relationship map which greatly helped in keeping us on course. Of course we were willing to consider referring to the same map, that is.
If you are the one who is looking for a ‘rock steady’ relationship then its time you started referencing the same ‘relationship map’.
Your reactions are learned behavior. People react to conflicts differently, some calmly and others with explosive response. Some people flee from the conflict, and others go back fighting. Some individuals look for ways to negotiate, while others keep pushing to get their own way. Just as conflicts come in many forms, so do our reactions.
I feel, often the way we react to conflict is also based on how we experienced conflicts growing up. Most likely, today’s reactions are based on yesterday’s model. As you were growing up, how did those around you deal with conflicts? What messages did your parents, teachers, religious leaders, and friends give you?
Our reactions to conflicts were learnt early in our lives. These patterns are well ingrained into our adult behavior and attitudes. The good news is that we can re-learn and modify the way we react to conflicts.
The first step being a heightened awareness of how we react to conflicts, which can help keep some of them from escalating and becoming big.
How would you normally react to a conflict?….
Most of our conflicts and reactions to it occur because of lack of our awareness of the underlying ‘interests’. We are too focused on dealing with the ‘positions’ people take in a conflict. This results in only heightening the conflict than resolve it.
For example: When someone says to you “I don’t care what you feel, what’s important to me is that you give it to me right now! immediately!” Obviously these words would hurt you, you will not like someone shouting at you and also ordering you to do something, even if the other person is presumably right. If your focus remains on the statement made then it is more likely that you would react with equal vigor and anger or simply leave the place to avoid further bad blood.
However, if you say to yourself “I really hate the way this guy spoke to me right now, however, I still want to understand what makes him so angry. I want to listen to him” will provide you with an opportunity to understand the underlying ‘interests’ of the person in behaving the way he is doing at that moment. Maybe you will come to realize that he is angry because someone else has been angry with him. Maybe, he has made a promise to someone and the delay from your end is causing him to behave this way. There could be many such underlying interests. The only way you can know is to dig deep, try to uncover and see that over a period of time you become adept at dealing and resolving with conflicts.
The base philosophy to keep in mind while dealing with especially interpersonal conflict is “People are not angry with you the person, they don’t mean to hurt you; they are just angry with the situation they are in”
Stop reacting to the ‘positions’ people take in a conflict. Stop reacting to ‘issues’. Learn to dig deep and uncover the underlying ‘interests’ of people in a conflict. Encourage people to talk more. Be an empathetic witness.
I recently had this conversation with someone who I unfollowed among many others in my network. I was a little shocked by the kind of message this person exchanged with me almost accusing me of insensitivity and a general lack of empathy. In fact, before unfollowing people I had put out a message to all those about the reasons. I had mentioned that while I meant no offense, the fact that I am unable to respond or engage with them socially and was not doing justice, what with a deluge of posts on my timeline.
I thought I must be able to spend quality time engaging with people and having a large network was only hindering the process. It was slowly turning into a one way communication with posts and forwards and I realized that even the ‘likes’ which I was giving to their posts was just me being ‘friendly’.
I realized that most of the follows are just plain reciprocal follows with people only trying to be ‘friendly’. They couldn’t be called ‘friends’ as most people tend to refer – ‘Facebook friend’, ‘LinkedIn friend’, twitter ‘friend’ and so on. Even I have been guilty of calling them that, while they are only friendly social acquaintance.
This triggered in me the thought “are we mixing up or confused about ‘friendship’ and being ‘friendly’?”. I think I was and so do many. I thought it will help us to focus more on quality of engagement than mere increasing the size of our social network.
“Unsubscribe and it’s all part of a plan. Unfollow and everyone loses their mind”
I like to believe there’s a huge difference between someone who is a friend and someone who is just a friendly social acquaintance. I think most of us like to believe that we’re ‘friends’ with the people we follow and who follow us back but are we?
Of course there are no hard and fast rules of networking on social networks. If you want to follow over 10000 people – that’s great. Each one knows what’s best for themselves. My only problem was when you refer to them as ‘friends’. Again, this is my personal opinion as much as you are entitled to yours. But there’s a big difference between being social with someone, and actually being their friend.
When you are polite, approachable and are willing to spend time with someone if it suits your needs; then you are friendly. You don’t necessarily have to like the person. You are courteous to the person and are willing to engage so as to not make them feel bad. You engage in small talk which keeps the conversation going in the short-term. You also engage in stock messages like for example in today’s time, when you ask a person whether they are staying safe or to stay at home, it only shows that you are friendly. Very similar to the “how are you?” question during normal times. It’s just that it is polite but you are not into the person much.
Someone who is friendly will have an excuse for being scarce in their interactions, especially during tough times. They don’t like to be the bad guy in telling you that you are wrong or break the bad news for you. They are people who just want to be nice. More importantly it is all about them and not you.
On the other hand a ‘friend’ is someone who you like to build a relationship. They are people with whom you would like to spend time with. A friend is not just there during good times but when the times are tough you are there for each other. They will have your back and be prepared to defend you when others are unfair to you. They will also have the courage to tell you the truth when you are wrong. They take the risk of giving you critical feedback.
A friend is also someone who you can confide and trust. They give you compassion than advice. A friend is someone who understands that they have no claim over your time and appreciate the moments they get to spend with you. They do not have expect anything in return but understand that you will be there for them when in need and return the favor when you can.
Today when the boundaries have disappeared cause of social interactions turning digital, we tend to think that everyone is and should be our friend. However, that really isn’t realistic. What makes friends special is that they bring something to your life which friendlies can’t offer you. You can’t give your time, attention and energy to everyone. It is therefore important that you assess who your friends are such that you can spend your precious time, energy and attention with them. This will ensure that you have relationships which really add value to your life and hep you become the best version of you.
I am not suggesting that you must ignore or dislike everyone else. You can always choose to be friendly with them. It will also help you to be comfortable with the fact that you can be ‘unfollowed’ by someone. You will learn to respect the use of ‘likes’; ‘comments’; and ‘networking’ on social media. Learning the difference will make a significant difference in the way you network and in your life.
Making a bad choice on whether you are ‘friends’ or ‘friendly’ with someone can have serious consequences to your emotional health.
How then do you identify a ‘friend’?
There are some ways in which you can identify a ‘friend’ especially on social media and differentiate them from the ‘friendly’. Here are a few which I can think of and it is not limited to just these. You can think of adding more based on the criteria we discussed earlier.
Encourages you to speak up more
Asks questions to understand you more
Is not quick to offer advice
Is comfortable disagreeing with you
Tells you if you are wrong
Helps you find resources to augment your learning
Takes time to reply to your posts
Willing to engage in a conversation to deepen learning
Provides feedback when they ‘like’ a post you have shared
Does not have ‘expectations’ of a reciprocal response. “I followed you so you follow me”; or “I endorsed you for a skill and can you do that for me as well?”
Cares to send you a ‘thank you note’ when you accept their friend request
Does not judge you by your ‘posts’, ‘profile’ or ‘qualifications’
They are all about ‘you’ and not about ‘them’ in conversations
I am in no way telling you that ‘being friendly’ is not a great idea. In fact it is the way you start building up your ‘friendship’. When we understand the difference we know how to sustain a relationship either way.
It’s been over 30 years I’ve been coaching people on the ways to “Give and Receive Feedback”. I remember about 15 years ago my wife asked me “Do you think you have been practicing what you teach on feedback yourself?”
This came out of nowhere and got me thinking. I always felt that I was open to feedback and used to take corrective action whenever I got the critical one’s. I have been very particular about using ‘feedback’ as a tool for my professional growth and that’s been my secret to success professionally. I presumed that it would be the same at home as well.
However, I thought it’s time I put it to test.
Most of us do not use structured approaches towards aspects like feedback, assertiveness, listening, openness and trust etc. at home. We don’t feel it is necessary and brush it aside by making statements like “Come on this is home and we don’t have to be very formal”; “Personal relationships cannot be compared and is not same as working in a professional environment” etc.
We fail to realize that irrespective of the place where you are, the personality (that’s you) and your communication behaviors are consistent and remain the same. The problem is that we live in denial all the time. I’ve heard most of my participants in leadership and team workshops tell me that I am a different person at home and not at all like the way people perceive me in office.
My question is “Do you ever sit down and formally take feedback at home?” “Do you think it is necessary at all?” I would say try and you will be surprised.
Anyway, coming back to my wife’s query, I thought it’s time I asked her to provide me with some feedback. To make it more meaningful and easy for her, I asked her to write down all the critical feedback she had for me and place it on my table. Now you may ask, why does she have to write down, can’t she tell you directly?
The problem is that more often than not and especially at home, we take relationships at home casually and for granted. The moment we get some critical feedback, we would like to quickly close the conversation lest it turn ugly. We prefer to avoid conflict and live in the make believe world that everything is hunky-dory. In fact we are conditioned from early childhood to believe the idea of a “happy married life” isn’t it? We cannot imagine therefore that marriages can have conflicts, disagreements and critical conversations. I myself have been guilty of quickly bringing difficult conversations to a close. I think I was one of those kinds.
When I got the list the next day, I saw that there were about 20 items which I had to work on and was causing discomfort to my wife. The top of the list on number one was that “I keep my workspace at home very disorganized and dirty, with a suggestion that I need to keep it clean”
I thought great, let me start with the first one and then I don’t have to worry about the rest. For about a week I ensured that I spent a great deal of time keeping my workspace neat and clean. Then I asked her for some feedback after a week.
Her response “Nothing has changed” angered me at first but I ‘paused’ and then I asked “but what about the office?”
“But, what about the office?” I asked. With that, she just looked at me in disgust and walked away. What I have found since then is that, even though the cluttered appearance of my office may be a frequent grumble for my wife, its cleanliness has almost no correlation to the quality of our marriage. My office can be a disaster at the same time our marriage seems wonderful, or it can be very clean and organized even when our marriage is experiencing frustrations.
I found that the issue at the top of the list was not necessarily the most important one to change. I also found that other items on the list had a much more direct and significant correlation to the quality of our marriage. Some of these items included helping out more with our child and not being critical of my wife’s decisions and actions.
I learned from this experience that I had been paying the most attention to the things that others complained about the most or the loudest or that were at the top of the list. What got my attention and was complained about most frequently was not necessarily the most important issue to change.
The most critical skill in making change based on feedback is deciding what specific issue to work on first. Many feedback experiences are very similar. Often, people identify the issue that appears to be the most negative and conclude it is the most important issue to change. This is faulty logic. Issues that are most negative or most complained about are simply the ones that are most noticeable. Evaluating what issues to change ought to be a completely separate decision making process, independent from how negatively people react to issues.
In a perfect world, we would receive feedback on many issues and change everything appropriately. We would soon become perfect ourselves. But in the real world, people face limitations in terms of how many issues they can successfully address at a time. A guaranteed way to fail in making changes based on feedback is trying to change too many things at the same time.
People cannot make five major changes at the same time. In fact, whenever most people try to change more than one or two important things at once, they end up making no changes at all.
In one of our leadership programs I asked the leaders to focus their efforts on only one issue. I found that in four months people could see a significant difference in pre and post feedback assessments.
Most people think and worry that if they focus on changing only one issues, others may not find any difference and would still end up complaining. But my experience is that if you spread your effort in changing too many issues, may prevent people from noticing that things are changing, because they will see little difference between where you started and where you are now. Focusing your efforts on changing one issue increases the likelihood that others will see a difference.
The 80/20 Rule
Change is difficult. Managing expectations is key towards working the change process. It requires focused effort and attention. Most change efforts do not occur in a vacuum. We still have to complete our required work and take care of ourselves and our families.
However, focused effort on a few specific issues greatly improves the likelihood of success. It is critical that you learn how to prioritize issues discovered through feedback according to which will yield the greatest benefit. I suggest you follow the 80/20 rule. When you start focusing on that 20% of critical feedback it should yield 80% benefit.
Remember, the people whom you ask for feedback will likely expect you to take action on all of their feedback. Therefore, it is helpful to establish up front that, although they may provide feedback on a variety of issues, you will focus your efforts on selected issues as you work your way through the feedback. To manage these expectations, I suggest the following steps:
Thank the person who gave you the feedback
Let the person know that you may not be able to respond to every issue but their feedback is invaluable and will help you work gradually through the change process
State upfront that you will start by working on one or two critical issues and name the issue you are going to work on.
Demonstrate that you are changing
Although the people who gave you feedback would expect you to change everything, their experience tells them that little would change. However when you make a focused effort on one or two issues, they will be able to see a significant difference and will not overly focus on issues which are not yet worked on.
How do I prioritize?
In order for your to prioritize you must rank each of the listed issues into ‘desire for change’, ‘ease of change’ and the ‘impact’.
Desire for change – The first step in bringing about change is to create a strong desire for change. As you think about the issues for which you received critical feedback, you may notice one issue for which others feel a high need for you to change, but you feel little or no need to change. How can you increase your desire or motivation to change? It’s important that you think about the extent of motivation you have to make the change. As you think through each of the critical feedback you received you should categorize them on ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ motivation for you to change. You must however not confuse others desire for change with your own intrinsic desire to change. However in a relationship it is important to take a holistic approach. You may want to align both so that you get the best from the change process.
We also commit the mistake of externalizing the feedback by making statements like “it’s what you feel, but I don’t think there is any need to change this”. The problem with this kind of attitude is that it does little to contribute towards motivating you to change.
It’s like an alcoholic when asked by his counselor, whether he was an alcoholic, the man said “I don’t think I am, but my wife thinks I have a problem”. The counselor then said “Then why don’t go and drink some more because I don’t think we can help you unless you think you have a problem”
For each negative feedback you have received you must think which one of those you are more desirous of changing.
Determine whether your desire to change is driven by you or by others
If you think that you got to change because your wife, boss or any other person is telling you, then you would have already forsaken your responsibility and will have little by way of motivation to change. Whenever you feel “My boss thinks I need to change this, ” or, “Other people think I have a problem in this area.” In these situations, your real felt need is not to change the problem, but to change other people’s opinions about the problem. So how then can you increase your desire to change?
Firstly you must not just be focused on the ‘negative impact’ of the issue and start reinventing the feedback by rethinking in your own mind. Try and understand what frustrates people the most and the impact it is having on the relationship. Have open discussions around the issue and be honest with yourself. Most often I find that people are not motivated to change because of their lack of understanding of the impact it is having on the giver of feedback and the relationship.
But if you have to increase your motivation to change then you need to start focusing not on the ‘negative impact’ but the ‘positive impact’ which would come out of your effort. If you understand only the negative impact of your behavior and have no sense of the positive impact of change, you will find less motivation to change and therefore have a lower felt need or desire to change.
Ease of change
Some issues are easier to change than others. In planning your change process, select at least one issue you know will be easy to change. This not only gives you confidence in your ability to change, but it sends a positive signal to others that you have responded to their feedback.
Focusing on small observable actions can be a great starting point to demonstrate that you are truly committed to improving the quality of the relationship. For example, if you were to be given frequent feedback that you are irresponsible and do not care for the team cause you always seem to arrive late to meetings. Irresponsible is a judgment and that you cannot work on or will surely not have any motivation to work. You may become defensive as well. However, arriving 10 minutes before the meeting commences is a behavior you can easily exhibit and is also visible to others. It’s a small change but can impact the overall perception of others on you.
Similarly, for my wife, giving her 1 hour of undivided attention daily and listening to her was easy to work on and it was actually that small thing which made a big positive impact. It was the same with my Son as well. When I started to devote 1 hour daily to have a chat with him and listening to his stories of the day, it greatly improved the quality of my relationship with him.
These small observable behaviors made a huge difference than being physically present all the time without being emotionally available.
Try to change actions than people
Most of us hit a roadblock and get frustrated in our attempts to change people. In fact married couples expend all their energies and a lifetime trying to change each other and end up getting little by the way of outcome.
It’s easy to change what we say or do than what others do. Changing my own action or behavior is easier than changing people. We have much more control over our thought and actions. For example, it is easy for me to arrive 10 minutes early for every meeting than trying to persuade people to wait for me before they start the meeting. Similarly it is easy for me to decide that time in the day when I will spend time with my wife and kid than asking them to come to me when they see me free.
Work on building agreements
It’s important that you discuss openly with your significant other or the person who provided you with the feedback on issues which are absolutely critical to work on. You may find that while prioritizing there can be disagreements on which one of the issue is more critical than the other. However, it is important to start with points of agreement, however small they may seem. It will provide you with quick-wins and get you a more meaningful and positive impact.
Do not start with more than one or two issues to work on at a time
Start with small actions which are easier to work on and get some quick-wins under your belt
Make sure others desire for change matches with your own desire for change. Do not change just because others want you to change. In such situations the chances of success are greatly reduced
Find areas of mutual agreement which will show visible impact
Did you know that the root of many conflicts which you may have in the present lies somewhere in the past?
Unless you are able to deal with the past issue and move on with your life, you will keep getting into more and more conflict, eventually ending up with a feeling of victimization.
We either end up playing the ‘victim’ or creating the drama of a ‘villain’. This somehow keeps confirming to our core believes which we have built over a period of time. It’s a vicious cycle and if you are caught in it then it’s time you get the heck out with some practice of forgiveness.
Let me explain this a little more. I had a friend of mine who was going through a troubled marriage. Everyday used to start and end with unending arguments and they had started to become distant with each other. The situation had precipitated to such an extent that a split was the only option they felt would help resolve this forever. Each party claimed to be the ‘victim’ and called the other ‘villain’ of the piece. Such positions never really help in a conflict. It’s important that we understand the underlying causes for our reactions in the present.
An evening coffee meetup gave me the opportunity to try and help my friend through this phase and identify what was causing frequent ’emotional explosions’ in her transaction with him.
“I don’t think our marriage is going to last, looks like we are heading for a split” she said as tears swelled in her eyes. I could see that she had over a period of time been suppressing her emotions and was looking to a person to pour that out so that she might feel lighter. For me, I was not really concerned about the current outburst which is a result of suppression. I was more concerned in digging deeper to let her come out with the ‘repressed’ emotions. The difference being that the second type is the one from a long past, which is formed and lying deep underneath and is at the core of all responses of the present.
“Tell me more, I urged”. You know, he doesn’t love me anymore and has been paying attention to other ladies. He no longer seems to be attracted to me. I think he has had enough of me. I knew she was playing the ‘victim’ here and wanted to know more as to what led her to believe this was happening to her.
I had known her husband for over 15 years and saw that he was caring, helpful and a great support for the family. I didn’t want to jump to any conclusion based on what she was telling me. I however didn’t want to give her an instant solution or strategy to work around this, lest she feel that I am biased and am no different from her husband.
Tell me more I prodded. “You know he is so obsessed with his daughter that it’s always about her, he has no time for me anymore” she said gritting her teeth as she banged the coffee cup on the table. It befuddled me, as even I wondered, what would make a mom so angry that her daughter is getting so much attention from dad?
“It’s like I don’t have space in his mind anymore. I think he is distancing himself from me and doing this deliberately”.
I thought it was a great opportunity to mine deep. “You use the word deliberately. From where did you get this idea?” I asked.
“Oh! I know this game. My Dad always used to do this to me. He used to distance me and give attention to my sis whenever he wanted to communicate his anger towards me and teach me a lesson. I was at the receiving end of such treatment and I can sense it if someone does it to me” she said.
“Was your Dad always distant from you? And are you saying he didn’t love you enough as he did your sis?” I asked.
“I thought that was his way of letting me know that I was not as good as my sis was. I could never live up to his expectations, no matter what” she started to sob and I let that happen for her to get lighter in the head and probably become a little open to think more clearly when I offered an alternative way of thinking.
“So you have not been able to forgive your dad for making you feel this way?” I asked.
She was trying to probably tell me that when someone doesn’t pay enough attention to her, its their way of communicating to her that she was not good enough or unwanted. Unfortunately for her, she has been living with this feeling for a long time and this repressed anger started to manifest itself when she saw her husband showering his attention on their daughter. She was actually visualizing her sis in her daughter and comparing her husband with her father. She was playing the perfect ‘victim’ and was projecting that in every transaction.
Her husband was unfortunately becoming the reason for her to be reminded of her past and their relationship was taking the brunt of all the repressed emotions. The problem was that the two souls didn’t know what was happening and were ending up blaming each other for the situation.
You will notice that we are not taught how to think through situations and reflect on the root causes. Instead we are taught to react, judge, lay blame and take revenge.
Come to think of it, most of us are leading our life like ‘Avengers’. We want to avenge for the past crimes committed on us by our parents, teachers, friends, colleagues and whosoever. We have unknowingly developed the victim mindset and now want to fight and harm others as much as we were harmed in the past.
“Is that the only thing about your husband that bothers you?” I asked. “What do you like in him, leaving this one dimension aside?”
“He always gives me my space, surprises me with gifts, helps me in chores – right from washing dishes to cooking great food when I don’t feel the energy to do anything. In a way I am lucky that he always chips in when I need”. Her reply surprised her as well as she paused after what she rattled about her husband just then.
Have you been evaluating your husband using the prism of your past baggage of your relationship with your Dad? I asked. It took some time for that question to sink in, for she paused and remained silent for a considerably long time. I get your point she said after a while. I am able to see that I cannot stand anyone giving more attention to others in front of me. It keeps reminding me of all the love and affection I missed getting from my dad. I always yearned for that. I can see that before we had our daughter, I was getting all the attention from him. Now it was different and I am starting to feel threatened. I think I have been harsh on him. “Don’t you think your daughter deserves the care and attention which you always looked for from you Dad?” I nudged.
This one interaction went off smoothly and though it took time and repeated reminders, my friends were able to iron out their differences and save themselves from damaging conflicts.
Have you ever thought about the fact that it is our repressed emotions which are at the core of conflict?
Isn’t it therefore important to go to the root of it and relate how it is affecting your present?
Can you think of some conflicts which you had and have manifested from your repressed past?
Don’t you think one needs to deal with the inner conflict before trying to solve the outer?
Did you really mean it, when you told someone in distress or going through a tough time “Call me if you need any help”?
I’m sure as well-meaning those offers of help were, deep down in your heart you knew that the person would most likely not call for help. Asking for and accepting help can be difficult for many and you know that as well. Therefore whenever I hear such an offer, I wonder whether the person really means it.
I myself wondered at times when I made such offers, though it was intended to provide immediate comfort to the person I worried about the ‘what if’.
“What if?” the person really called asking for help. Do I have the time or the bandwidth to help? Did I jump the gun and offer for help without realizing that it was possible that the person would really call? There were also times when people did call back asking for help and I was not in a position to help them. I did feel like an idiot. Why did I in the first place make an offer which I couldn’t follow through?
At times we are also not sure whether it is appropriate to offer help to people. What if the person concerned is not looking for our help? Maybe I’ll offend the person by presuming that the person needs help?
This happens in organizations as well. Managers tell team members that they can call them any time they need help and when they do get such a call for help, they start to give excuses about lack of time etc. This really impacts the credibility.
I’ve had several instances when I took the offer of help by someone seriously and when I called them, they started to avoid or give excuses. I felt like an idiot having believed this person; and at times insulted or hurt.
I realized that often times the offer “call me if you need anything” doesn’t work for either side. It’s best as the famous Nike line goes “Just do it”
I remembered one such offer my friend made, which I think was fantastic and really touched me. This was when I was down with severe sciatic pain and was immobilized for almost a week. He called me and said “Hey I am at the nearby store running some errands, do you want me to pick up something and drop it for you on the way?”
It made me feel very comfortable. As a seeker I didn’t feel that I would be bothering my friend much as he was already at the store. The fact that he would drop by on the way back home was also comforting as I didn’t have to upset his schedule.
I got another one during this period. It went like this “Hey, I am bringing Friday dinner, what would you like to have, some noodles or lasagna?”
We don’t have to sound hollow in our offer for help. If you truly wish to help, just do it!
What kind of specific offers of help stood out for you as a person?
“Don’t’ worry my boy, you are not the first, I’ve seen lots of people naked in the last 25 years” said the Doctor to my son when he was taken in for examination.
The Doctor failed to realize here that it was not about him, it was about my son’s discomfort of lying naked in front of a stranger. While it was an attempt to reassure the patient, it lacked ‘empathy’. In fact my son’s angry response “You might have seen many naked but I am not comfortable” put things in perspective.
“Don’t worry”; “Everything will be all right”; “It can’t be that bad”; “Like everything this one too will Passover”; “just be positive”….
Have you heard this from someone before?
Do you often rush to reassure people when they tell you their distressing stories or share their pain?
In a relationship where decisiveness and action is often valued, it is difficult not to do something to defuse others distress when it occurs. Such reassuring statements are usually made in good faith and sometimes may be probably true: that is, it is likely that everything will be all right.
Nonetheless, you would have experienced yourself that such reassurances often fail if it does not communicate an awareness of your situation. You will agree one of the most widespread and persistent complaints today is that people don’t ‘listen’. They blame it on being pressured for time, being preoccupied with handling their own problems, pressure to deliver results and so on…. Plenty of excuses on offer.
How many times you would have heard the following as responses to your reassurances? “You don’t seem to understand my predicament”; “it’s easy for you to say it can’t be that bad”; “how do you expect me to be positive in such a situation”; “it’s not happening to you so you can say whatever”
All these responses are an indication that you have failed to demonstrate empathy.An understanding of the person’s situation, perspective and feelings and to communicate that understanding back to the person.
Many times when we are confronted with distressful stories of people, we do not know how to listen empathetically. In our anxiety to help we jump the gun and aggravate the pain further by offering reassurances which demonstrate lack of understanding. Almost always having an adverse effect.
What do you think might work? How can you demonstrate empathy?