Frequently Asked Questions
1. How can leaders afford to spend a lot of time thinking and talking about their relationships?
They’re already spending a lot of time thinking and talking about their relationships! Skeptical? Just count the hours you spend each week thinking about an interaction that troubled you, or complaining to someone about a colleague or a client, or struggling week after week to reach agreement with a peer on the right course of action.
If people thought more systematically and talked more productively about their relationships, they’d be spending a whole lot less time on them than they are now.
Still, time is a highly valuable and scarce resource, and in today’s world, it’s getting more so every day. No one can afford to squander it. That means three things: you have to invest time only in those relationships that really matter (see Chapter 6); you have to have an approach that allows you to make changes while getting things done (see Chapter 7); and you need to stage change over time (see Chapters 8 through 10).
2. Can this approach fix any and every relationship?
No, it can’t. All approaches have their limits beyond which they’re more trouble than they’re worth. If an organization is poorly designed—if it’s got too many people or not the right ones or the wrong decision rights—no amount of fiddling with relationships will help you much. Similarly, if a firm’s strategy is wrong, rearranging relationships is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And if one or more people in a relationship is suffering from a biologically based psychiatric illness, attending to their relationships won’t take you far.
In each of these cases, relationships may be a compounding factor—either escalating team dysfunctions, or making it harder for leaders to adapt their strategy, or intensifying psychiatric symptoms—but this approach alone won’t work. Illnesses need to be treated; organizations need to be well designed; strategies need to be connected to the realities of a constantly shifting market.
The point is, as you work on each of these or other fronts, make sure your relationships aren’t slowing you down. If they are, work on them in tandem.
3. Aren’t there just a few simple techniques I can use to make my relationships better?
Anyone who tells you that a handful of techniques by themselves will transform your relationships is either fooling you or themselves. Relationships aren’t simple, and there are no simple techniques for strengthening or changing them. That doesn’t mean that you have to get a Ph.D. in psychology to improve your relationships. It does mean you need a framework that will allow you to understand how relationships work, develop, and change. To do things in new ways—at least to do them well—you need to see things in new ways. Only then can you apply new techniques intelligently and naturally. Without that understanding, anything you do is apt to be experienced as a gimmick, or worse, a manipulation.
4. When is it best to give up and walk away?
When you’re no longer part of the problem. At work, the goal isn’t to stick with a relationship until death do you part. If that were the case, you’d just end up killing each other. No, the goal is to reduce the odds that you’re each creating and perpetuating a relationship neither of you likes but both of you could alter, were you aware. The best way to test if a relationship can change is try to change it—not by doing more of the same only harder—but by doing three things: (1) mapping the way the relationship works at an informal level, (2) identifying what you’re each thinking, feeling, and doing to maintain a relationship neither of you likes, and (3) conducting joint experiments aimed at changing the relationship’s underlying structure (for more on each, see Chapters 8 through 10).
If, after doing these things, your effort still falls short, and if dispassionate others would say you’re not a part of the problem, then walk away.
But be careful how you arrive at that conclusion: you need observations—independent of your own—from people who’ll tell you truthfully what they see. That’s rare, so be sure to welcome, even encourage it.