Want Respect? First Respect Yourself

There are few things that offend us more than feeling disrespected by others. These insults take many forms: We are excluded from a meeting, others arrive late to our meeting, our comments are dismissed, or we’re spoken to in a harsh or inappropriate tone. Are they intentional? What motivates them? Are they about us, about who we are, about how valuable or deserving of respect we are?

Admittedly, in the rapid-fire interactions of the usual business day we may not pause to ask these questions. At least 50% of behavioral actions, interactions, and reactions are driven by habit, habits of thought and habitual assumptions about self, others, and the meanings of behavior. But reliance on habit does not mean we are incapable of invoking a reflective pause and questioning our experience – what’s happening?

Individual Differences - we're not mindreaders

Whatever we feel in the moment is real. As a feeling it conveys meaning, and whether positive or negative it has an effect. It can trigger reactions, it can prompt notice, and it can do both. In situations where it feels like we are not being respected, it’s critically important to notice and listen to these feelings. This is where respecting ourselves begins. It concerns our values, so these feeling are worth listening to.

If we are to really listen to them, however, we must notice what they are signaling: hurt, annoyance, outrage, or shock and disappointment. Any or all these emotions may come into play. Clarifying this meaning affirms the basis of insult – “That’s why I am offended and reacting so strongly!” But we don’t stop here. That’s only the beginning. The next question concerns what caused the behavior.

The actions by others may have been intentional or unintentional. They may have been motivated by malice toward us, or by a sense of urgency to act that led to rushed action and inadvertent offense to us. Even if the action was intentional and thoughtful, it may not have been informed by an awareness of our preferences for inclusion or involvement, or how the action might leave us feeling disrespected.

Now, mindful of why we felt disrespected and of the alternative reasons why this might have happened, we may have calmed our reactive emotions enough to intervene. And the best way to intervene in these matters is almost always live, face-to-face conversation. The best default assumptions are benevolent. We should assume that others were most likely trying to do something good, helpful, positive.

Assertiveness vs Aggression (or passive-aggression)

So, we begin speaking: “I am sure you felt that you were taking the best course of action, when you did this, but….” And we proceed from there to describe what concerned us about the action, i.e., what we had expected, wanted, and preferred and why. Then we seek to establish a clear, mutual understanding of how to avoid such “misses” in the future. 

Our initial effort to assertively engage others when we've felt disrespected may work easily, or it may require an iterative course of dialogue. Others might say, “I am not sure why you feel that way or have those preferences,” or they may say “I disagree with you about your preferred way of doing things." If so, we must hang in there, recycle the pause-reflect-discuss intervention in a dialogical manner.

If there is not complete resolution and agreement, we may need to take a break, reconsider one another’s positions, and schedule time to revisit the matter. If that still provides no resolution, perhaps we need to convene a meeting with superiors to place our dispute on the table for mediation. And along the way we must continually remind ourselves to make benevolent assumptions.

Summary: We must first take our own feelings seriously and understand what their telling us. Then we must examine our assumptions of cause and our attributions of intentions and motives to others. There is usually plenty of opportunity for confusion and misunderstanding in our fast-moving business world. Finally, we must clearly assert what we experience, expect, and prefer in a self-respecting manner. 

What is Customer/Client Centricity?

cen·tric·i·ty - a position of central prominence or importance
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Customer is a term of broader use than client. It is one who purchases a commodity or service. A client, on the other hand, is a person who engages the professional services or advice of another. Customers include those who engage in one-time transactions as well as longer-term commercial relationships. The term client usually signifies a more intimate long-term relationship. But let’s focus on centricity.

Centricity as Attitude and Action

To place those we serve, customer or client, at the center of our concerns is to regard them as an end rather than a means to an end. To regard another as an end is to acknowledge their dignity as a person, a unique and free moral agent. Therefore, we seek to operate with their interests in mind. We align our actions and design our goods or services to help them realize their aims. That is the value they pay for.

Some degree of empathic understanding is required to achieve and sustain this quality of alignment over time. We who provide goods and services will miss the mark at times, lose focus, and fall short of true customer/client centricity. And at that time, we have another opportunity to demonstrate commitment to centricity by acknowledging that we've lost alignment and getting back on track with them.

In fact, I would suggest that just as our readiness to restore good-faith relations is essential to building trust in a personal relationship, this “redemptive” act of transparency signals similar qualities of integrity and fidelity to the values in our commercial relationships. This implies that we take our relationship with the customer or client personally. We must treat them with care, as an end.  

Centricity as Structure and Strategy

Sustaining these norms of attitude and action over time will require that we design our organizational structure with this as a strategic intent. Marketing will continuously observe, study, and anticipate the direction in which their customers’ and clients’ markets are going. Product development and operations will continuously find ways to add value, reduce waste, and be a timely partner.

Strategic centricity can never be all things to all people. We must stake out a direction that we as a firm can deliver on. That means saying “no” to some opportunities in order to “yes” and keep our promises with those we are best designed to address exceptionally well. Adaptive change over time is made possible by sustaining an active, attuned quality of communication and performance measurement.

There is very little in the structure and strategy of the firm that cannot and should not be made clear to the customer or client. Both parties understand that risk-taking is inherent to a market economy. And in a customer/client centric business relationship these risks are discussed openly and honestly. Nothing is without cost. Informed consent is an essential element of any agreement.

Centricity as Duty to Serve

Ultimately, if we treat our customers and clients as an end, and if we place their interests at the center of our planning, decision-making, and actions, centricity becomes an ethic. It’s an ethic that calls upon us to consider what we owe to those we serve, but also what we owe to one another. We must form just and honorable alliances within our firm and between us as a firm and our clients and customers.

If we cannot treat one another as persons, as ends and not merely means, how will we be able to uphold this ethic in our marketplace dealings. Again, we will fall short from time to time. The stresses and stain of our fast-moving, 24/7 economy can leave us feeling ragged at times. So, we must cultivate the capacity to notice this fatigue factor and intervene accordingly, to acknowledge, apologize, and make it right.

What I have suggested here clearly goes beyond marketing hyperbole. Few could argue with the idea of centricity. It makes sense, and it works well when realized in action. One way to ensure that we sustain our duty to serve is to make sure we align our interest with those whose interests we serve. We must pursue our work in a way that pays off for us while also being highly valuable for those we serve. That's an ethical and commercial win-win!

Helping Couples: Because Executives are People Too

Questions & Answers

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What makes two persons a couple? Intimacy. What leads to chronic relational strain and conflict in relationships? A breakdown in capacities for intimacy. How do we recover a state of intimacy? By regaining a capacity for communication. How do we develop resilience in our capacity to restore intimacy when its been lost? By learning new ways of communicating and caring with one another.

About Intimacy

Achieving and sustaining intimacy is one of the most fundamental, complex, and important markers of adult development. It requires a special kind of readiness and ongoing attention and care: 1) We must have a clear and healthy sense of our individual identity. 2) We must be able to disclose and explore our values and vulnerabilities. 3) We must be able to subordinate self-interests to an ethic of mutual caring.

Intimacy is an innermost connection to another person. No wonder it’s difficult to find and sustain. And self-identity is not static, it further evolves within this relationship. But the basic tasks of differentiating ourselves as persons and learning to function independently must have been reached if we are to be sufficiently secure and self-possessed to invest ourselves in the relationship.

Definition of Intimacy

in·ti·ma·cy [from the Latin intimus innermost] – a close personal relationship marked by love and affection, characterized by a depth of mutual knowledge, a complete intermixture or interweaving. (Webster’s Third International Dictionary)

Developmental Stage of Intimacy

Intimacy is “the capacity to commit… and to develop the ethical strength to abide by such commitments, even though they may call for significant sacrifices and compromises.” We must face the felt threat of “ego loss in situations that call for self-abandon…The avoidance of such experiences… leads to a deep sense of isolation and consequent self-absorption.” (Erik Erikson on intimacy versus isolation)

As much as conceptual definitions of intimacy and norms of adult development may sharpen our focus, the actual experience forming relationships and living as couples is both messier and more difficult. And that’s what I would like to discuss in this brief article, the challenges and problems that arise, and how to handle them.

Addressing the Problems

Positive intentions and high hopes meet the realities of everyday life to create adaptive challenges in any relationship. Being attentive and acting with care is usually a bit easier in the beginning when we are most deliberate. Later, a combination of complacency and unanticipated or novel challenges can arise that test the limits of our capacities to cope individually and jointly. 

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I represent this phenomenon in the Challenge-Development Curve. Early in the relationship we’re highly motivated and committed. We rally our emotional, mental, and practical energies to focus and problem solve issues. But as we enter more demanding moments of life as a couple, we may begin to experience increased levels of stress, strain, and frustration. And if we do not pause, take notice, and recognize the need to get help, relational dynamics and quality of life can take a downward turn.

When couples contact me it’s often only after they’ve tried everything they can think of on their own. They are nearing or beyond the “inflection point.” At that time, they recognize the need for help, and that there is specialized help available that can make a difference and bolster their capacities to navigate peak challenge. Alternatively, feeling hopeless, they may try to “settle” for something short of happiness and genuine intimacy.

Those who call later, after things have worsened and become chronic, finally realize that “settling” is not a winning strategy. It's affected their mood and vitality, and their capacity to experience joy. The ill effects of settling can erode relations with children, life at work, and engender feelings of chronic fatigue. It’s time to either work things out or separate.

How Skill Restores Affection and Connection

When we’re stuck, we usually know it, even if we aren’t willing to consciously admit it. Being stuck causes us to feel out of control and experience feelings of fear or threat, in response to which we activate self-protective defenses. They become like the fight-or-flight response, automatic, reactive, with an intensity that is often out of proportion to the actual risk or danger in the situation.

It's easy to see how those conditions make it difficult to communicate openly, empathically, and with an aim of reaching mutual understanding. And absent that, we take all kinds of impulsive actions that not only do not help, they further distance us and heighten defensive postures. So, it will come as no surprise that the cure must address both self-management of defenses and communication skills.

And this skill-building work must be linked in concrete and practical ways to the recurring themes and behaviors that cause emotional distress and conflict. That is, we must “situate” our skills training in a well-diagnosed context. And then we must pursue progress patiently, not expecting miracles but experimenting with new ways of thinking, acting, and interacting.

It’s Up to You

There is little reason to settle for something short of what you want and can realistically achieve with some help. It’s a choice, and even if you do not choose, that too is a choice – it’s a choice to settle. Do you wonder why I post this article on Linked In and how it relates to my work as a coach? A different kind of intimacy, collegial intimacy, operates by the same principles. Even more to the point, managers and executives are people too!

Assess Your Efficacy on Three Critical Themes in Performance

Communications, role clarity, and cross-functional collaboration. What’s new? Seems like very familiar territory, doesn’t it? Think again; these are the fault lines that explain most business failures!

These three themes are relevant for almost anybody, but they're particularly important for managers and leaders. They are the people who are supposed to bring focus, discipline, and espirit de corps to the organization. And it’s the summing effect of these variables that optimizes performance.

Communications

Communication is the primary mode of action for managers and leaders. Whether it’s social or task-focused, tactical or strategic, or conversational or directive, it is the medium through which we align our relationships on purpose, priorities, and action plans.

It operates through words of inspiration and encouragement. It also helps us resolve conflict and navigate difficult conversations. When it’s timely, authentic, and respectful, we bolster goodwill, even if it stings at first. And when we avoid the elephant in the room we all lose.

Good communications – kinds that are effective and appropriate – require our best efforts. Messaging our thoughts, feelings, concerns, and plans translates real-time experience into clear, meaningful messages, which include both rational and emotional meaning.

Choosing the right words matters. They don’t need to be “perfectly right” – some are more fluent than others. But our words must do the work we intend them to do. They must convey our aims, intentions, and motivations with well-reasoned clarity and positive purpose.

I work with plenty of flat, fast-moving organizations. In their rush to get things done, their managers can slack off in their duties to communicate. Later, upon reflection, they'll admit that in such environments care in communications is even more critical.

Critical questions: 1) are we timely enough; 2) do we involve the right people at the right moment; 3) is our message clear, well-considered; 4) are others ready to pass it along in the proper tone; and 5) if this is a development opportunity, what are we doing to address it?

Role Clarity

Positions include many roles. Indeed, persons in their professional and personal lives elect to take on diverse roles. The role I play on project A, is different than the role I play on project B. But our expectations of others may be too general – “She’s in project management.”

Who is most responsible for ensuring role clarity? Simple answer: the leader. But who is the leader? It all starts with making these questions the subject of explicit discussion, decision-making, and agreement. We will accomplish less, perhaps very little without such clarity.

As previous paragraphs suggest, role assignments are not a one-time discussion. In today’s world of business, most of us are involved in several streams of work at the same time. What’s important is not our title and job description per se; it’s the description of our job and role in this particular work stream.

Problems and questions challenge us to clarify roles, goals, and accountabilities. But they shouldn't be allowed to persist as protracted areas of debate. That leads to behavior and performance issues – passive-aggressive games to mention only one manifestation.

Better to have "good-enough" clarity at the outset and readiness to make adaptive changes along the way. Problems and questions will naturally prompt us - if we notice them - to reconsider our roles. One may take the lead early, another may step in to lead more in the middle, or toward the end. The central issue: Are we making this sufficiently explicit?

Critical questions: 1) are our roles & contributions clear; 2) are all inputs/outputs by person specified; 3) are we ready to hold one another accountable – if not, why not; 4) does this project allow time for learning; and 5) how do we complement/compete with one another?

Cross-Functional Collaboration

Collaboration is a familiar theme, but it's not so easy to master in practice. Any business, manufacturing or professional services, can readily identify vital functions that must align to create and deliver value, the value chain. They know it’s critical to create a clear line of sight to the client and what counts as value for them.

And the work of establishing and maintaining this alignment over time, from project to project, client to client, is perennial. This mode of operation must become a mindset, a work ethic, and a set of everyday practices. That said, we now observe the full interaction between collaboration, communication, and role clarity.

The role of coordinating these variables and cultivating a practiced quality of performance is the duty of management and leaders. With an eye on the end goal, managers must design or adaptively apply existing solution strategies to realize the promise made to the client.

The unique role of leaders is to notice and adaptively respond to issues of motivation, attitude, and behavior that arise in implementation. Leaders must manage, and managers must lead. And, as the research tells us, poor collaboration usually stems from poor partnering between managers.

Summary: The role of managers and the managerial work of leaders are ongoing. So managers must renew themselves, and bring a fresh mindset to their work every day. Why? Because even though the task of aligning people on these critical variables is perpetual, each work stream or stage of work raises new and often novel needs for adaptive change. And that's what leaders do, they help others adapt to change and they challenge complacency.

Vital Relations: Couples and Colleagues

This title may prompt thoughts about life-work balance. And some, tiring of the same old debates on this subject, will say, “Get over it! There is no such thing.” Not to worry, we’ll be setting that quarrel aside. Rather, we’re going to consider some vital, normative life-work connections.

Boundaries

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For many of us it seems best to keep work and life outside of work separated by a clear boundary. This boundary is defined in part by distinct personal priorities. We take both domains seriously and consider what we owe to others in both parts of life. The cross-cutting themes and connecting tissues that make common claims upon us are relational and moral, for what we owe consists of an ethic of care. 

Viewed this way, we can find advantages to the separation and interconnection of life spheres. Stepping away from situations and then returning after some interval and change of scene can refresh our ways of seeing things. It’s called an incubation effect because in the transitional time and space between roles and places new perspectives and possibilities are born – particularly helpful in problem solving. 

However, there is also a continuity of responsibilities of care. We are one and the same person who hears and relates to others, who finds ourself in quarrels that strain relationships. In both interpersonal arenas our ways of attending, responding, and communicating help to repair strained relations. And in both trust, empathy, and a willingness to bear the tension of working through difference is essential. 

Integration

There is a fortunate convergence of mature forces that we experience when our exercise of work and nonwork roles and relationships are grounded in the ethic of care. It is all the easier to leave others feeling heard and respected, which relieves them of the felt necessity to raise their voice or marshal aggressive energies to be recognized and make their point. 

In both domains of life there are times when we must persevere and “bite our tongue.” Emotional self-management skills grow all the faster. Skills of attending and noticing spikes in reactive emotion in self or others grow in ease and competence. And perhaps most important of all the gains, we become more integrated human beings. And that conveys authenticity to others. 

Take a Moment to Reflect

I encourage you to consider this brief reflection on relationships. How are they working for you, at home, with significant others? And how are they working with colleagues at work? What do you struggle with at home and at work? What have you learned about working through difficult issues and repairing strains? Are you more or differently attentive to the ethic of care at work or at home? 

Our lives can feel so rushed, at times so chaotic and without boundaries. And in a disordered life it’s harder to realize an ethic of care. Of course, we’ll never live this ethic perfectly. The key is to gain an awareness of growing strain and disorder, not to judge ourselves harshly for our imperfections. For then, we can use this awareness as a call to pause, breathe, knowing we can always begin again.