Too much can be overpowering; too little makes no difference. How do you get it just right?
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I’m having one of those summers where answering the question “How are you?” is tricky. There are many authentic truths to tell. I choose the true response that is appropriate for the relationship and the circumstance we’re in together. I want it to serve the goal we’ve agreed to, whether that’s with a client or a personal relationship.
It’s a lot like using bleach: You’ve got to match the strength you’re using to the task at hand, and you can’t always know ahead of time whether you got it right. That’s why you have to watch carefully and adjust as you go.
Which is where the fun begins.
I watch 3 indicators to match the strength of my authenticity to the moment:
1. Is it useful? Does it serve the goal of the relationship in this moment? I find the answer to this question changes moment-to-moment. My intention makes all the difference: If my intention is to be helpful (with clients) or deepen my connection (friends, family, clients), then I’m more likely to connect.
2. How are they reacting? You can see people backpedal when you’ve got it wrong. Or can you? You can certainly see a reaction, but it’s almost certain you don’t know what it means. You can ask what their reaction means, or you can simply be silent and wait for them to proceed.
3. How are you reacting? What are you thinking and feeling? Are you feeling exposed, like you’ve said too much? Are you aching to say more? Are you more anxious than when you started speaking? If you don’t factor yourself into the equation, you aren’t being authentic.
Here’s a sample conversation using the 3 indicators:
I’m talking with a client about something he’s doing that is affecting our work together. I’m clear about what I want from the conversation. In our initial meeting I asked “What if I discover that something you’re doing is the root of the problem on your team?” Read on and see how much bleach I had to add as we went along.
“Jerry, remember when I asked you ‘What if the problem is something you’re doing?’”
“I do – and I’m 100% committed to improving.” (He could also say “Sure – I remember telling you that would be impossible,” and laugh. It doesn’t matter. At this point I’m focused on my need to make our relationship fluid and productive.)
“It’s annoying me that you make changes to the agenda we agreed to before you send it out to the team for their feedback. It takes time and energy to try and understand your thinking. Even worse is when you can’t make the meeting and I’m put in the awkward position of explaining something I don’t understand and may not agree with.
“You’re annoyed with me?”
“I don’t like that.”
“Neither do I.”
“Do you want me to not make the changes then? Because that would slow us down.”
“Making changes on your own is slowing us down. Which you don’t see because you’re not in the meetings where the team and I try to read your mind.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Yes. The way it reduces otherwise intelligent, talented people to blithering idiots would be funny in a movie.”
“I need to adjust the agenda as I see fit.”
“Absolutely. And you’ve hired me to help make this day productive, and you want to involve the team.”
“I have a proposal. Do you want to hear it?”
“Your decisions on the agenda are final. They’ll be better if you consult with me first. Where we need help, we’ll involve the team. Is that right so far?”
“More or less.”
“More or less?”
“I don’t like some of your ideas.”
“Neither do I! I’m not attached to the idea; I’m looking for the best one.”
“Shouldn’t you just know?”
“I like it that you see me as all-knowing, Jerry. Sadly, I’m human, just like the guy who keeps changing the agenda.
“You’ve got me there. <pause> I’m the final decision-maker, right?”
“Alright, you’ve got yourself a deal.”