We’ve all got to work with people. But some relationships just aren’t’ worth it.
Looking forward to the long weekend? I know I am.
But I hope you’re not looking forward to it just because it gives you a chance to get away from all the bozos at work. (I heard someone say that the other day!)
Making productive relationships work is hard. Really hard. But it’s something we’ve all go to do.
And as we transition away from working for others and start running our own games, it becomes all the more important.
So today, I wanted to talk a bit about how manage conflict in your productive relationships?
The short answer? Don’t.
No seriously. Don’t bother. I’m going to show you why it’s not worth it. And then I’m going to give you five reasons why we all find it hard to just ‘walk away’.
Quick to Fire
One of my early business mentors used to have a saying: “Slow to hire, quick to fire.”
The idea was simple enough. Put a lot of time into your hiring decisions. Take the time to find the right person for the job – someone who fits with the culture of your organisation and has the skills you need.
Take your time.
But if things aren’t working out, cut and run. Just cut your losses and let them go. Don’t try to patch things up. Don’t try to find a way to make it work. Don’t go into mediation or dispute resolution or performance management programs. It’s just not worth the effort. Let them go so you both can move on.
Slow to hire, quick to fire.
I really like this. It’s something I still run my business by.
And I know I’m going against the grain here. This isn’t the touchy-feely ideology the world seems to be embracing these days.
A lot of people really like to think that the whole world can be brought into harmony if we just love each other and use the right gender-appropriate pro-nouns.
And those people have never been in management positions.
The truth is that in a business setting, some people are just problematic. Maybe they’re hopeless. Maybe they’re aggressive. Maybe they’re anti-social. Maybe they have trouble respecting other people’s personal space.
Maybe they’re just living by a different moral code to you.
And the reasons why people express problematic behaviours are always complex. It is very rarely because they are not being shown enough love or that they are not getting enough cuddles in the work environment.
The reasons are complex. And unless you’re willing to dive into that complexity, then you’re not going to be able to engineer fundamental change.
I mean, if someone is exhibiting problematic behaviour, there’s a good chance it’s coming from some deep and ancient wound. Maybe their father never offered enough praise. Maybe their mother was unavailable when they were an infant.
Unless you’re willing and able to take things to this sort of level – to open up the Pandora’s box of all their past hurt and anguish – then there’s no guarantee that any sort of process is going to bring you into alignment.
And really, is it even your place to try and do that? Is it even appropriate to make that a condition of employment – You must have a willingness to explore old wounds and rewrite your old patterning.
That’s not for everyone.
And are you really going to try and take that work on anyway?
I mean, if someone starts working for me and it becomes clear that their computing skills need to be brought up to speed, I’m totally willing to do that. I’m totally willing to send them on some sort of course.
However, if someone starts working for me and it becomes clear that their passive-aggressive tendencies are due to abandonment issues cemented in early childhood by a distant mother and the early death of their father, what am I going to do with that?
Provide mandatory psycho-therapy?
And the truth is we all have issues. I don’t want to pretend that my work-life is just a string of messed-up losers coming to work for perfected Saint Jon.
I have as many issues as the next person.
And most of the time conflict arises when the coping strategies one person has developed come into conflict with another person’s strategies.
So to do this kind of work honestly, you have to be willing to look at your own wounds and your own problematic coping mechanisms.
Yeah… So what? Now you’re doing mandatory psycho-therapy too?
Seriously, who has time for all that?
What business has the capacity to invest in a long and expensive personal development agenda when there is no guarantee of success?
It’s one thing when someone doesn’t have the skills for the job, but when you realise that what you’re talking about is someone’s fundamental nature – when you find yourself saying things like, “You know what his problem is? He just gets triggered by authoritarian female figures” – you’re into territory where it is just not worth it.
Just walk away. Cut your losses.
Slow to hire. Quick to fire.
And I think this keenly applies to people running a business, but we all have productive relationships. We all have tradies we use, or joint-venture partners, or accountants and mortgage brokers we engage with.
The same rule should apply to all our productive relationships.
Slow to hire. Quick to fire.
But, many of us find it difficult to do this. Many of us want to hang on to the grim end. We find it difficult to walk away, even though the writing is clearly on the wall.
I had a sit and think about it, and I reckon there are five key reasons why we stick it out in toxic work-relationships much longer than we should. Let me give them to you.
Reason #1 – The need to be right
We all want to know that we’re making good decisions – that we have a clear and accurate assessment of the situation and a good strategy for response.
We all have that desire. But for some of us, it’s something our ego gets caught up in. It’s something we need, just to feel ok.
So a toxic work-relationship challenges us in two ways. First, the prospect of having to let someone go forces us to admit we made a bad decision when we got into bed with them. That can be hard to swallow.
Second, if we find ourselves in conflict, a ‘need to be right’ can have us fighting the same battles, over and over. We keep the toxic relationship alive because we hope that it is a theatre where we will ultimately be proved to be ‘correct’.
Don’t bother. Suck the fart. Take the ego hit. Move on.
Reason #2 – The need to be heard
Sometimes a toxic work-relationship might leave you feeling stomped on and abused. You may then feel a need to be heard – a need to be witnessed and understood.
Nothing wrong with that. But save it for your wife/husband/therapist. Don’t’ push out a toxic-relationship in the hope that there’s some process that will ultimately validate your feelings.
Save it for the people who love you, not the people you work with.
Reason #3 – The need for resolution
There’s a personality type in psychology called ‘conflict avoider’. These people hate having conflict in their lives because it taps into a deep sense of insecurity.
When these people find themselves in a toxic relationship, that have a deep biological need to ‘fix it’ – to make everything peaceful and harmonious again.
This will make you stick out a toxic relationship much longer than you should, and what’s worse, it puts you in a terrible negotiating position. If you can only tolerate one outcome, then you’ve got no leverage.
I think Trump said something like, “If you can’t walk away from the table, you’re a price-taker.”
Same story if you’re in some sort of conflict resolution process. If you’re not happy with any outcome where the conflict isn’t fully resolved, you’re in trouble.
Reason #4 – The need to heal wounds
Some of us are real Florence Nightingales. We need to save the world. When we see people hurting and acting out of their hurt, we feel triggered. We become uncomfortable, and we need to save them from their pain so they stop reminding us of ours.
So you might find yourself thinking, “If only he stopped being so insecure and dishonest… He’d be so much happier.”
Stop it. If you want to save people, go to Africa. Your productive life isn’t an operating theatre. It’s not a place where you can ‘save’ people.
Reason #5 – The need for a collaborative reputation
Some people take great pride in their ability to collaborate and work well with others. And they are judging of others who are not able to build productive working relationships, through whatever wounds they’re carrying.
For these people an unresolved conflict freaks them out. They worry that it portrays them as a person who can’t work well with others – and they worry that it signals to others that there are some serious wounds beneath the surface that they’re trying to hide.
(Which is probably the truth).
So don’t worry about it. If you could have a productive working relationship with every person on earth, you’d be a freak. It’s just not possible. It’s an impossibly high standard to set for yourself.
Where there’s people, there’s going to be conflict. Don’t take it personally.
Just walk away
All of this comes down to just checking your motivations for trying to make a toxic relationship work.
I’m here to say that most times, it’s just not worth it, and there’s a good chance your need to fix things comes from something going on for you – not because it’s what you or the project actually need.
Slow to hire, quick to fire.
Just manage your time well. Be careful where you’re investing it. It’s the most important resource you have.