Passing Like Two Ships In The Night

“The natural course, if untended, is to drift apart and become the proverbial two ships passing in the night.”
Patrick Morely

When I worked in sales, occasionally I’d hear a fellow salesperson say, “Selling wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the customers.” And when I taught at the university, occasionally I’d hear another professor say, “I really enjoy teaching. It’s the students I can’t stand.”

What they didn’t understand was RELATIONSHIP … the importance of relationship and the process of relationship. And the same thing could be said about a marriage relationship or a team relationship. There are 10 things you’ve got to know and got to do if you’re going to make it all work. Let’s look at 5 of those factors today and look at the other 5 next week.

=> 1. Get a realistic understanding of what a relationship can and cannot do.

As marriage therapists Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say, “Marriage is, in actual fact, just a way of living. Before marriage, we don’t expect life to be all sunshine and roses, but we seem to expect marriage to be that way.” And, “Debunking the myth of eternal romance will do more than just about anything to help you build a lifelong, happy marriage.”

I agree. I’m reminded of an attorney who handles many divorce cases who told me that the number one reason two people split up is that they “refuse to accept the fact that they are married to a human being.” The belief in a “happily-ever-after marriage” is one of the most widely held and destructive marriage myths today.

Likewise, corporate teams would be well off to get a realistic understanding of a team relationship. Teams are just another way of working. And there WILL be problems … that WILL require some patience and skill to get to the outcomes you want.

=> 2. Get a realistic perception of the other person.

The most dramatic loss experienced in a new marriage is the idealized image the two partners have of one another. Sooner or later, reality will hit the two people squarely in the face: that they did not marry the person they thought they did.

That’s why author John Fisher advises, “The success of a marriage comes not in finding the ‘right’ person, but in the ability of both partners to adjust to the real person they inevitably realize they married.”

Similarly, if you’re on a team at work, take some time to get to know each other. The more you understand each other’s strengths, use those strengths, and work around their weaknesses, the stronger your team will be.

=> 3. Engage in meaningful communication.

According to Gary Smalley, the author of several books on marital communication, “Many couples, thinking they know each other intimately, have actually lived on a superficial level for years. Unfortunately, marriages of this type are the norm rather than the exception.”

In essence, they have failed to communicate. Oh, they may talk, but that’s quite different than real communication. Talking is sharing facts, such as “I’ll be home at five … and … Let’s have spaghetti for dinner.”

Communication is spending quality time together … sharing who you really are, what you think, and how you feel. And many adults are afraid of sharing their feelings … or are “too busy” for any in-depth communication with their spouse. As a result, these people find themselves ten years into a marriage and still very lonely. They discover that their loneliness has nothing to do with their proximity to the other person. It comes from a lack of deeper, ongoing communication.

As Patrick Morely points out, “The natural course, if untended, is to drift apart and become the proverbial two ships passing in the night.”

That’s why I wrote my book on “Brave Questions: Building Stronger Relationships By Asking All The Right Questions.” It’s a powerful tool for any relationship on and off the job. As certified personal trainer Jimi Varner writes: “Dr. Zimmerman, around 4 months ago, I purchased your incredible, thought-provoking book on ‘BRAVE QUESTIONS,’ and have seen the miraculous effects it’s had my relationship with my soon-to-be fiancé. Although practical and simple, we have found it extremely beneficial to all of our relationships and highly recommend it to anybody in need of urgent or not-yet-so urgent relationship repair!”

Just so you’re clear. All of this talk about “meaningful communication” applies to work teams as well. The team that takes time to ask questions, to listen, to build the relationships amongst the team members does better than the time that always keeps its nose to the grindstone, focusing on the “business” every waking moment.

=> 4. Stay focused on your goal.

It’s what distinguishes two people who are “merely” living together and two people who are “truly” married. Truly married people have a common goal they are pursuing.

It’s what distinguishes a group of people from a team as well. The group may work near each other or around each other, but a team has a common goal they all are trying to accomplish.

And when you can’t see your goal, you’re going to have problems.

That became clear to me through the presentation of another speaker at a Low Alpine sales meeting, an outdoor equipment manufacturer. The speaker talked about climbing Mt. Everest … the skills it took, the dangers that had to be handled, the people who made it to the top, and those who didn’t.

But just before he finished his presentation, he asked the audience a question. He remarked, “There’s a time when you’re climbing when you almost feel depressed. You feel so low and down you’re not sure you can continue. Do you know when that is?”

The audience shouted out their answers … such things as … when you first begin the climb, when you only have 100 yards left, when you reach the top, and when you begin your descent. No one was even close. He said, “Climbers get down when bad weather sets in.”

He went on to explain that when bad weather sets in you can’t see the peak. You lose sight of your GOAL and become easily distracted and sometimes even depressed.

Of course, you might be wondering what this has to do with marriage or teamwork. There’s a very clear correlation. Like a mountain climber who can’t see the peak, marriages and teams who can’t see their clearly defined goals are more susceptible to distractions and more likely to waste their time on the less important things in life.

So ask yourself if your marriage has a clearly defined goal. If not, get one. And the same goes for your team. Get a goal and keep your eye on the goal.


=> 5. Respect differences.

In the initial stages of a relationship, differences tend to attract. We find them fascinating. But often times, those same differences can become a source of irritation later on in the relationship.

That’s too bad, because differences are the source of power … when they’re acknowledged, respected, and utilized. Dr. Ernest Bormann, one of the world’s leading researchers on team effectives and my Ph.D. advisor, found indisputable evidence that the best teams were always composed of a variety of people with a variety of skills. The variety of talent allowed these team mates to find the best solutions that combined the best of everyone’s input.

So when it comes to your team … or your relationship … learn to celebrate the differences and learn to use each other’s strengths. Don’t waste your time trying to pound the differences out of the other person or make the other person just like you. It’s self-defeating, and it won’t work anyway.

For starters, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say, “You’ll always find exceptions to the rule, but research and experience consistently point to a fundamental and powerful distinction between the sexes: Men focus on achievement; women focus on relationships. It sounds overly simplistic, and it probably is. But remembering this general rule can save every couple wear and tear on their marriage and strengthen their bond.”

Action:  Take some time to show respect to your fellow team mates in 3 different ways on 3 different occasions this week.