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Posts Tagged ‘relationship’

2012 Gift Book Pick: The Elephant in the Room

December 4, 2012 3 comments

Elephant in the Room book coverAt first glance, I wondered why Diana McLain Smith called her latest book about relationships The Elephant in the Room. Surely, interpersonal relationships are now understood to be an essential part of organizational life; every leadership competency model includes relational skills and every workplace development office offers classes on conflict resolution.

But as I delved into this highly readable, story-rich book, I increasingly appreciated Smith’s insight into two important ways that relationships at work are like that proverbial elephant—seen but undiscussed; or at least under-discussed and misunderstood.  By providing a practical roadmap and tools for identifying, understanding, and strengthening key relationships, Smith has created an excellent resource for leaders and coaches poised to push past their limitations in this domain.

The first way that we typically under-discuss relationships at work is by relegating them to the “soft skills” territory, making them a quality of life concern rather than a life or death concern. Smith moves relationships into the “hard” category, not just in the sense that they can be difficult (we all know they can be!), but in the sense that relationships are critical business assets. The behind-the-headlines stories she shares amply illustrate the significant bottom-line consequences of relationship issues left unaddressed. For leaders reluctant to venture into relationship matters too deeply, an amplified awareness of what’s at stake may help them embrace the work as a strategic investment.

The second way we tend to under-discuss relationships at work is to regard them at arm’s length, as structures outside ourselves that we can learn to “build” and “manage.” But with her finely-honed systems instincts, Smith exposes the inadequacy of this framing and guides us to see relationships as dynamic human systems that we inhabit and continuously co-create with each other. She provides tools that empower us to see how we contribute to the very patterns we feel trapped by and how, together, we can interrupt and disarm those patterns in the interest of forward progress. By inviting us to engage with relationships as a matter of perspective rather than of skill, Smith has elevated the conversation and made it easier (though still not easy) to talk about them productively.

If there is a leader or a coach on your holiday gift list, I think they’ll welcome The Elephant in the Room as a source of new insights and action in the coming year.

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Growth Spurts

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

flowers growing among the ruinsStand back. I’ve got a theory. I won’t be quoting any esteemed researchers on this one; it’s just a blurt from observation.

Over the past few months I’ve met up with or spoken to several women with whom I had been good friends in high school and college, but hadn’t spoken to with any depth for close to twenty years. (Yes, thank you, Facebook.)

We all remarked on how we were able to pick up right where we left off; how hearing each others’ voices and seeing each others’ faces immediately transported us back into the comfort of close relationship. It occurred to me that one reason those bonds are so supple is because they were forged while we were each in the midst of a dramatic growth spurt, a time when we were transitioning, when we were wondering more than knowing: What career should I pursue? What’s it like to be independent of my parents? What is sex all about?

Similarly, going farther back, our childhood relationships with parents and siblings owe some of their intensity to the explicit state of becoming we were in while they formed. Actively engaged in learning and change every day, as children we’re particularly receptive to the feedback we get from others about what’s good about us and what’s bad about us. We’re paying close attention to this incoming data because our success and safety depends upon it, and as a result, the love—and resentments—we share with those individuals throughout our lives are rooted in the very soil of our hearts.

My theory is simply that the sponge-like quality we take on during growth spurts can lead to deeper relationship with other human beings. I’ve also experienced it as a young parent growing alongside other young parents and as a member of a project team growing with my colleagues at work.

So, if you’re feeling a gap in the area of meaningful relationships in your life, you can help test this theory. Choose to be in growth spurt mode! Is that even possible?

I think the answer is yes. It starts with a courageous question: Am I a work in progress, or a done deal? If you’re a work in progress (Hint: If you’re alive, you are) get curious and then intentional about who you want to be. Make time for reflection. Notice what you’re paying attention to and ask yourself whether it’s drawing you forward or holding you back. And most importantly, choose to be with other people who see themselves as works in progress.

I can almost guarantee that you will grow together.