- You need courage and positive expectation.
It takes courage and positive expectation to take the lead in any relationship: the courage to break the patterns that have been keeping you stuck in the current dynamic and your existing thinking, the guts to admit that what you believe about the other person might just be wrong. If you are unable to accept that your thinking is mistaken, then reflect on whether it is serving you or them if it is keeping you both stuck in a dynamic that is uncomfortable and frustrating.
- It takes work and conscious effort.
Relationships don’t work without work. If you are prepared to do the graft, you will enjoy the fruits of your labour. By working on your thinking and interactions, you can positively influence the dynamic in any relationship, once you make the commitment to be the leader of it. If, until now, all your energy has been directed at moaning about how things should be different about him or her or them, then stop. Your “blurting” only focuses your “filter” so that you are guaranteed to get more of what you don’t want. Have you ever wondered if the unhealthy dynamic is your fault? What if you dissolve every grain of negative association or assumption about the other person, and chose to focus instead on the positive aspects of why they are and what you could do to improve the relationship? Are you going to direct your energy in this relationship toward high-functioning interaction or away from it?
- Change your thinking.
If you want to lead in a relationship that is—in your current thinking about it—a problematic one, then let go of the fixed ideas that you have about the relationship. Start leading the relationship with an entirely blank slate—as if you were meeting the person for the first time, recognizing that you have created your own experiences of the other person through how you’ve thought about them. Let me give you a non-work example:-
Imagine that you are about to make a call to your older sister. You’d describe the current relationship as “difficult,” and you’re calling her only because you will get grief from her if you don’t. You see her as negative, and she always criticizes or finds fault with you. With a heavy heart, you pick up the handset and dial her number. Stop right there!
How is this call going to go from your current perspective? Your filter is fixed, and your expectations are primed. Your tone of voice at the beginning of the call will, quite literally, set the tone for the conversation, as your sister—like most of us—will follow your lead in this interaction.
The difficulty with anticipatory emotions is that they arise from what we think a person is going to say or do. That mental filter will determine what we notice, and our anticipatory emotions are written all over our face—or in our tone of voice—and will tend to get the reaction we were expecting in any event. The problem with reactive emotions is that they arise because of the interpretation we have placed on what we have just experienced from a person. The experience has been processed through a mental filter that has attached judgment and created the emotional reaction in us. Letting go of our thoughts about who the person is, what they are going to do or say, what their motivations are and simply being with them in the moment to moment of an interaction is a critical starting point. It means being present and curious about what he or she is going to say or do—each moment unclouded by what has gone before. It’s much simpler to put into practice than you might imagine and is an energizing way to interact.
Think of the challenges your sister has, the pressures she may be under. Allow your compassionate inner voice to talk warmly to you about her. Allow your ‘devil’s advocate’ to challenge your current thinking and replace it with understanding and positive expectation. Be determined to stay present during the call and notice, with amusement, if you feel “triggered” by anything your sister says. Now you’re good to go. Pick up the handset and make the call, and just see what a difference your fresh perspective has made.
- You can even lead the relationship with your boss.
Being the leader of a relationship does not depend on who sits where in the organizational hierarchy. You are capable of shifting the dynamic in the relationship with your boss just as surely as you can shift it in the relationship with those whom you lead. If the narrative you have about your boss and your relationship with him/her is that they don’t rate you and you lack confidence around them, then that will be what you get. If you change the narrative, you will change your perspective, and that will change what you notice, what you think and how you behave.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. . . . If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution.” —Maya Angelou