We all have those exasperating people in our lives: the team member who won’t pull his weight, the spouse who takes you for granted, the boss who doesn’t mentor, the child who won’t work to his potential.
While you can’t control other people, there ARE ways to change the dynamics of difficult relationships so you can get what you need. In this article, we’ll share the three most important questions you can use to assess the situation, the one secret that does the most to inspire change, and five steps you can take now to start getting things turned around.
Three Important Questions to Ask:
1. How much control do you have?
Honestly assess whether you can control, influence, or only respond to what is going on. In most cases you have some influence with other people through conversation, but how much depends on the situation. Think about how much influence you have. 80%? 20%?
2. What do you need most for yourself in this situation?
When a behavior bothers you, it’s usually because it is taking something you need away from you. What is that need?
Here are some examples of unmet needs:
- When a team member isn’t pulling his weight, the need is usually to accomplish something at a high standard, get recognition, or maintain your reputation for excellence.
- When a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend is taking you for granted, the need is often love, appreciation, intimacy, connection, belonging, acknowledgment.
- When a boss doesn’t mentor your need can be for guidance, support, or re-assurance.
- When an employee or child is not performing, your need is often related to how that reflects on you, your family, or your organization, and it might boil down to is pride, respect, recognition, achievement, peace of mind, or the sense that “I’ve done my job”.
It’s really important to clarify what you need for yourself and see the words of that need separate from the person in question. Often we phrase the need like this, “I need him to do x, or I need her to do y” but that is not the right answer. Ask yourself, “if he or she does x or y, what will I get as a result”? Then isolate that answer from the people involved.
3. What is your plan if the person never changes?
In order to allow someone to change, you must first find your peace with the worst case scenario: that they may never change. Otherwise you’ll never free yourself from the push /pull dynamic.
This can be difficult to do in practice, but think of it this way: how often have you bought something from a sales person who was pushing a product down your throat? Only when the sales person stops pushing do you have the space to breathe and decide for yourself if you want to buy. The sales person has to free you to say no in order for you to be willing to say yes.
This is how dynamics work in all situations.You may have to make some tough decisions. If my boyfriend cheats on me do I have the strength to leave the relationship? When does it make sense to fire this employee? If my boss never changes, do I want to leave the company? Can I allow my child to live an average life if he doesn’t have the ambition to succeed?
While these are tough emotional decisions, coming up with a plan for the worst case gives you a deeper sense of peace. It may seem like surrender or resignation, but it’s not the same as giving up; it’s more like knowing you’ll be okay no matter what.
Once you know you’ll survive the worst case, you don’t have to fight as hard to control something you can’t control, and your energy will change. You’ll become more peaceful, less pushy and more effective at handling the situation.
The Biggest Secret: You’re Focusing on the Wrong Thing
It SEEMS like you should be focusing on the problem, and it SEEMS like the problem is the exasperating person who is actually doing the negative behavior (or not doing the positive behavior).
It SEEMS like all the energy you use to fix the problem should be focused on motivating that person to change. However, the more energy you focus on pushing on the spot that needs to change, the more it pushes right back at you in resistance. You have to find a different spot to focus your energy on – a spot that gives you leverage.
That spot is YOU! Because, when you change how you think, feel, and respond to the behavior – the energy that comes through you changes, which changes the entire dynamic of the interaction, and the other person will react to you differently.
You are your point of leverage because you have much more control over yourself than over the other person. The more you work on yourself, the more people around you change for the better; when you have a specific relationship issue to resolve, there are specific ways you can work on yourself that will ultimately result in improving that specific relationship.
Five Steps to Start the Change Process in You
1. Build a Back-Up System
You’ve learned that you can’t count on the person in question to change, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept the consequences of their negative behavior.
You can build a back-up system for yourself that gets you what you need without requiring you to depend on an undependable person.
Here are some examples:
- If you have a sub-par team member, figure out a way to work around him. It’s not the ideal solution – but it insures that if he doesn’t do his work, your project can still be a success.
- If you have a boss that isn’t advocating for you, make a conscious effort to build strategic relationships elsewhere, both within and outside your organization.
- If you have a spouse that overspends, get a separate bank account so you can save.
- Start making new friends or join a group so you don’t have to lean on undependable people for emotional support. Don’t fall into the mental trap of thinking it will take years to make new friends. When things are tough, acquaintances who aren’t emotionally tied to you can actually provide better support.
It’s not easy to come up with these back-up systems because they may force you to admit that things aren’t the way they “should” be. Building a safety net for yourself is not about allowing others to walk all over you. It actually gives you more power. This way, no matter what the other person chooses to do or not do, you’ll be okay.
2. Decide on Your Terms
Once you have your back up system in place, it’s easier for you to assess what your rules are. What is the behavior you want changed? What is the consequence if the behavior does not change? How many times are you willing to have a conversation requesting change before you issue the consequence?
In this phase you need clarity and courage. Clarity to know exactly what you do and do not want, and the courage to take whatever action you are committed to taking if the person chooses not to do what you request.
3. Address the Issue
Once you have your back up system, and you have your clarity about what you want, you are in a much more powerful negotiating position. Since you no longer “need” the person to change, you don’t come across as desperate, pushy, aggressive, or emotional. You have a calmer presence, and the other person takes you more seriously as a result.
It may take several direct and authentic conversations over the course of months for serious issues to change, but if you are committed, something will change, and your back-up system insures that if the change doesn’t go the way you want it to, you will still be okay.
4. Allow others to Experience the Consequences of their Actions
It’s hard to watch people we care about in pain and hurting themselves. No matter how sad or painful it is to acknowledge, each individual on this planet is responsible for his or her own life. They may not take responsibility for their life, but that in itself is a choice.
You can support the people you care about, but you can’t live their lives for them, do their work for them, or protect them from the consequences of their behavior.
This can be extreme: sometimes self-destructive behavior leads to death. I can’t imagine what it would be like to watch people I love put their life in jeopardy and know I can’t protect them, but people do it.
They watch their kids go to war, they see family members spiral down in drug addiction, and they see people with all the potential in the world succumb to self-sabotage and personal tragedy.
This is where that worst case scenario question can feel awful, but also be the most powerful and freeing tool of all.
Only once you have let go of controlling a life you can’t control, can you be truly available to offer the kind of support that doesn’t have strings attached, which is the only kind of support that is willingly received anyway.
5. Practice and Repeat
This is a process. Nothing I’ve shared in this article is necessarily easy to do. But it’s definitely possible, and when you do it your whole life changes.
…You become less bothered by other people who aren’t giving what they should be giving, because you are getting what you need no matter what…You become more influential with those you interact with because you don’t have an agenda…You are able to support and contribute more in the world because you aren’t trying to control people.
Overall life gets calmer and everything seems easier to achieve.
Start this process by identifying the people who you struggle with, ask yourself the questions, identify your needs, build your back up system, get clear on your terms, and keep working on it until you get good at it.
If you could use a support system, join a group such as the Aspyrre Professional Edge Program – and do this work with a group of others committed to personal and professional growth and change. You’ll hear stories and get inspired by results you see in those who have been doing the work for awhile.
We all have exasperating people in our lives, we all have unmet needs, but when we pay attention to what is going on, and do the work to change ourselves, the world around us changes – and doing it together is a lot easier than doing it alone.