Four Relationship-Busting Behaviors

“The purpose of a relationship is not to have another who might complete you, but to have another with whom you might share your completeness.”

Donald Walsch, author of “Conversations with God”

Unhealthy Relationships

If you were asked to write down your secrets for others to see, what would you write down? That was the question asked by the Counseling Center at the University of Minnesota–Crookston where I was speaking a few weeks ago. In fact, they’ve dedicated a whole wall where students and passerbys can post their secrets. I found them fascinating, amusing, and sometimes painful.

There were dozens of “secret” cards on the wall. I wrote down a few of them. Read through them and notice the common thread that runs through so many of them. One person wrote, “I am scared on how my life is going to turn out.”

Other comments included:

“It’s been 13 years since my parents divorced, yet every day I blame myself.”
“I have a deep hatred for pink.”
“I have an outie belly button and feel really self-conscious about it.”
“Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere and that I am not wanted.”
“Dove and pigeon taste just like chicken.”
“Sometimes I miss the days where I would cut and carve my skin.”
“I am afraid of clowns.”
“The day my Mom dies, I don’t think I’ll cry.”
“My mother is a prescription drug addict.”
“Even though I’m in a relationship and have friends, I still feel alone.”

What struck me is the fact that so many of the “secrets” had something to do with relationships, and most of their relationship comments were negative. That’s sad.

You see … most people in our society are trained to do a job of some sort, but almost no one is ever taught how to build good, healthy, productive relationships with the people around them. And that’s even more sad. But it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why one of my most requested keynotes and seminars is on “The Partnership Payoff: 7 Keys To Better Relationships And Greater Teamwork.”

By contrast, people often wonder what actually causes an unhealthy relationship or an unproductive team. Of course, there are several things. That’s why I offer programs that go into much more detail, but you can be certain that these are some of the causes.

And I’ll tell you what … you absolutely MUST NOT DO or CANNOT ALLOW if you expect to have a team or even a personal relationship work well. Some of the most destructive ones are the following.

1. A person who is an energy sucker instead of an energy contributor.

I always tell my audiences that everyone in the company makes it a better or poorer place to work. No one is a neutral. You either add or subtract from the overall energy and effectiveness of any team, organization, or family you belong to.

If you’ve got an energy sucker in the mix, he/she will obviously drain some of the lifeblood out of the relationship. Mira Kirshenbaum writes about that in her book, “Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay.” She says 70% of our total energy comes from the emotional aspects of life. It’s the kind of energy that manifests itself as hope, resilience, passion, fun, and enthusiasm. The other 30% of our energy comes from the physical aspects of life and it gradually runs down as we get older.

The good news is … emotional energy is unlimited and can even be increased … if you have the relational skills you need. And even if you don’t have all the skills you need right now, Kirshenbaum says the least you can do is NOT give your precious emotional energy to people who continually drain you.

Lori Jonason, manager of Student Accounting and Transportation services at the award-winning Minnetonka School District, talked about one of her life-changing, career-enhancing take-aways when she attended my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program. She says, “Without a doubt, I learned how to work with others and bring them along. On top of all that, I left the program fully affirmed as an individual and totally filled with leadership skills that I’m using to encourage others to live up to their potential as well.”

2. A person who is much too self-centered.

Put a bunch of people like that together at work and you may have a group, a department, a district, or a region, but you will NOT have a team. Put two people like that together in a marriage and sooner or later, the only thing those two people will have in common is the fact they happened to get married on the same day.

People who are too selfish, too self-centered, too egocentric, and too me-me-me oriented are mostly takers. They’re not givers; so no wonder they become a major source of relationship dysfunction or destruction.

Some of those people … and I’m sure you can name several … will even step on others to get ahead. Oh, you might call them “ambitious,” if you’re kind, but in truth they’re nothing more than “greedy.”

Unfortunately, our society sometimes rewards these overly ambitious people. Our society revels in success stories. The rags to riches, Horatio Alger stories are inspirational for all of us. But being too ambitious is almost seen as a negative by your coworkers … if you’re on a team … and by your followers … if you’re the leader.

Remember, there are two ways to get to the top. First, you can get there by climbing over other people … which almost always backfires for almost everyone concerned. Or you can get to the top by being lifted up by other people. In other words, your behavior is so likeable, respectable, and competent that people just naturally want you to lead so they can follow.

Think of any great leader that you would gladly follow. I would guess that the leaders who come to mind are “servant leaders.” In other words, instead of sitting at the top of the organizational pyramid and barking out orders, they’re out front supporting everyone else so they can do their very best in their various jobs.

3. A person who is loose lipped.

You’ve all heard the TV commercial that says, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” In a similar sense, “The tongue is dangerous thing to use.” In fact, I would wager that more wars have started, more companies have failed, and more relationships have ended because … in part … some bad, wrong, ugly, hurtful, negative, disrespectful, and inappropriate things have been said. Some of those things might have been uttered out of pure innocent ignorance, others out of intentional malice, and still others out of habitual gossip and jumping-to-conclusion behaviors.

NONE of it works … ever. So STOP it! I don’t care how right you are, how justified you feel, or how good it feels to say certain things, relationships are improved by the right words said the right way, even if those words are sometimes confrontational. It’s one more thing I teach in my two-day program, the “Journey to the Extraordinary” coming to Boston on May 2-3, 2013.

It’s one of the many take-aways Becky Moyer, the Facilities Manager at Purdue University, got from her “Journey” attendance. She writes, “I learned how to work with difficult people and more importantly how to get them on board and all working toward a common goal. That was HUGE. So I have to say GREAT program. It gave me the people skills for dealing with situations with my family, friends, and my coworkers. And it gave me the tools to live a more positive and rewarding life. What could be more important?”

In terms of stopping the loose lipped people who destroy relationships and reputations, I was amused by the way Frank handled it, although I am not necessarily recommending his approach.

You see … Mildred was the church gossip and self-appointed monitor of everyone else’s morals. So she kept sticking her nose into other people’s business. Several of the church members did not approve of her gossiping behavior, but they feared her enough to maintain their silence.

One day, however, Mildred made a mistake when she accused Frank, a new church member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his old pickup parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon. She emphatically told Frank (and several others) that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing!

Frank, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away. He didn’t explain, defend, or deny. He simply said nothing.

Later that evening, Frank quietly parked his pickup in front of Mildred’s house, walked home… and left it there all night.

That may or may not have gotten the gossiper to shut up. I simply recommend asking yourself three questions before you talk about someone else … or ask somebody else these three questions before they start talking about someone else. The questions are: 1) Is it true? 2) Is it necessary? 3) Is it kind? If you can answer all three questions with “yes,” then it’s okay to share. It won’t be harmful gossip.

Finally, a relationship will bust if …

4. A person is unsafe to be around.

You feel unsafe emotionally, physically, spiritually, or any other way. The other person may come on strong and quickly, trying to force a relationship too quickly, and once a relationship is formed, he easily becomes jealous.

Or she may try to “own” you as “her” friend and try to isolate you from others. You don’t feel emotionally safe. Healthy people don’t do that. They encourage each other to have friends outside your relationship or outside your team.

Some people have tempers that scare you. Just for the record, if you’re in a long-term relationship, angry, controlling behavior isn’t likely to change … and usually gets worse with time … unless some re-education is sought and applied. So be careful when you’re standing next to an exploding person. His/her explosion could destroy your peace of mind, scatter your professional composure, and reduce your productivity. Again, you don’t feel safe.

Still other people think it’s okay to correct you in front of other people. They may even use sarcasm … which comes from the Greek word “sarcasmos” which refers to tearing the flesh off of someone’s body. Again, it’s never acceptable and always destructive of relationships. My friend Steve Saffron talks about such behavior when he says “Ridicule is playing with someone else’s pain without their permission.”

None of these four things have to happen, however, if you choose your relationships carefully, and learn to take charge of yourself, the situation, and the other person.

Action:  Which of the four relationship busters noted above gives you the greatest difficulty?  What are you going to do about it?  Having a plan in mind before it happens is always a good idea.

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc