We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp. Some are pretty. Some are dull. Some have weird names. And they all are different colors. But they all have to learn to live in the same box.
I spend a good portion of my professional life teaching people how to improve their relationships with their customers and coworkers. But almost always, audience members come up to me during our seminar breaks and ask me how they can improve their personal relationships. I applaud their openness, and I respect their wish to make things better. After all, nothing in life brings more joy than good relationships, and nothing brings more sadness than bad relationships.
Of course, it’s no wonder that so many relationships are struggling. Our schools and our companies teach us just about everything except how to make relationships work. Jonathan Robinson, author of Communication Miracles for Couples, says, “It’s a shame that in school we get to learn how to speak a foreign language and even how to ‘talk’ to a computer but fail to learn how to skillfully communicate in an intimate relationship.”
As a result, lots of people have lots of misconceptions as to how relationships work. G. B. Richardson discovered that when he noticed his nine-year-old daughter was watching soap operas after school. So he decided it was time for them to talk.
G. B. said, “Mary, this is just a story. In real life people don’t usually meet someone and then immediately hop into bed with them.”
“Oh I know that,” she replied with confidence. “They always have a drink first.”
Perhaps there needs to be a new warning label from the Surgeon General on all liquor bottles. It would read, “Warning: Alcohol can make members of the opposite sex appear far more attractive than they actually are.”
One of the biggest misconceptions to hurt relationships is the notion that infatuation feelings will last. Somehow people come to expect those heart racing, short-of-breath, can’t-sleep, can’t-eat states of bliss to keep on keeping on.
It’s kind of like the newlyweds who were honeymooning in Miami. As they walked arm-in-arm along the beach, the young groom looked out to sea and spoke poetically, “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll.”
His starry-eyed bride gazed at the water for a moment, then in hushed tones gasped, “Oh Fred, you wonderful man! It’s doing it.”
The truth is these initial infatuation feelings will change. Marriage counselor and author Gary Chapman has studied this phenomenon for years. He notes that all the research indicates these “tingles” have a maximum life expectancy of three years.
Dr. Ted Huston, a professor of human ecology and psychology at the University of Texas, says all couples eventually lose a bit of their honeymoon euphoria. But Huston notes, those who remain married don’t consider this a crushing blow. It’s simply a natural transition from a “romantic relationship” to “working partnership.”
When people don’t know this, or when people mistakenly expect the infatuation to last, they set themselves up for a lot of disillusionment, disappointment, and anger. That’s why there are so many one-liners and bad jokes about relationships.
One comedian asked his audience if they were married — or happy? And another comedienne, said, “Marriage is the only life sentence that can be commuted for bad behavior.” I even read a sign posted at a restaurant that quipped, “Women tend to marry men like their fathers. That’s why mothers cry at weddings.”
If you want healthy, productive relationships, YOU MUST START WITH REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.
You can’t expect to live on cloud nine all your life, and you can’t expect your relationship to “make” you happy. You can’t expect the other person to be perfect, and you can’t expect to live and work together without conflict.
I tell my corporate clients the same thing. If they want to change from an autocratic or bureaucratic structure to one of collaborative teamwork, they’ve got to start with realistic expectations. They can’t simply tell people to work as a team and expect it to happen. It takes some expert training and coaching.
And if they want to change a process or change their culture, they’ve got to have realistic expectations. They can’t expect an easy, automatic transition to be all completed in a few days or weeks. It usually takes several months, even with the help of excellent, continual, ongoing training.
I give dozens of keynote addresses every year. I speak to audiences that range in size from 6 to 6000. And occasionally someone will call and say they’ve heard about the marvelous results we’ve achieved in other organizations. And then the person will tell me they’ve got a morale problem in their company. Or their work relationships are not as good as they should be. They want me to speak at their meeting and fix all their problems, and they can give me about an hour to do that.
I tell them the same thing. They’ve got to start with realistic expectations. First of all, their problems developed over months and years, and they can’t expect me or anyone to fix all their problems in 60 minutes. And second of all, if I could fix all their problems in 60 minutes, my fee would be about a hundred times higher than it is now.
So my first tip to make your relationships work is to start with realistic expectations. Ask yourself if you’re expecting too much or too little.
Then, ACCEPT THE FACT THAT PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT. As simple as that sounds, we often expect people to see it our way and think like us. And when they don’t, we get confused or upset. We can’t understand why they don’t understand us.
You’ve got to expect people to be different. And that’s especially true when it comes to male-female communication. Despite all the talk about equality, about males and females being equal — which is, of course, true — they’re still very different. To expect them to think and act alike is just not fair.
One of my audience members made that quite clear. She said the Three Wise Men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child. She asked if I knew what would have happened if it had been Three Wise Women instead. She said the women would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought disposable diapers as gifts.
Another man in the audience teasingly countered her comment. He said things were changing. Childbirth is no longer a “woman’s thing” to do all by herself. He said, “Take natural child birth, for example. The man is the coach. That’s how they get the man involved. They make a sporting event out of it.”
The sooner you realize and accept the fact that people are different, the less time you’ll waste on trying to make other people think and be like you. You’ll focus your energies on trying to bridge the naturally-occurring communication gaps.
Unlike English, many languages recognize these differences in male-female communication. French words, for example are masculine or feminine. And German words are masculine, feminine — and to make things even tougher — neutral.
But what about computer language? Do computers have a gender?
A group of women concluded that computers should be referred to in the masculine. With tongue-in-cheek, they listed the following reasons.
1. In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on.
2. They have a lot of data but are still clueless.
3. They are supposed to help you solve your problems but half the time they are the problem.
4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer you could have had a better model.
A group of men, on the other hand, decided that computers should definitely be referred to as feminine. Among their reasons were:
1. No one but the creator understands their internal logic.
2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else.
3. Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for later retrieval.
4. As soon as you commit to one, you find yourself spending half of your paycheck buying accessories for it.
The good news is relationships can be built. Start with the principles I’ve given you today, and look for some specific communication tips next week.
Action: Inspect your expectations. Are you being fair? Are you simply expecting things to work out in your personal and professional relationships?
Or are you getting or providing the training to make sure your marriage, your team, and your customer relationships are positive, productive, and profitable? You shouldn’t leave such things to chance.