The average car owner understands the importance of maintaining their vehicle's engine by regularly changing the oil. And if owners choose to forgo regular maintenance, they can expect a much heftier bill down the line. Investing a small amount of time and money on a regular basis reduces the chances of spending much larger amounts in the future.
It’s also obvious to the average car owner that when they hear a strange noise coming from under the hood, it’s better for them to bring it to the attention of a mechanic sooner rather than later. It's much easier to schedule an appointment into your calendar this week than it is to deal with unexpected engine failure while driving to that very important client meeting.
The same principles hold true in relationships--personally and professionally. It's easier to regularly invest small amounts of time and energy into our most important relationships than it is to wait until major repair work is needed. And dealing with conflict in the workplace when it's an occasional vibration under the hood may prevent full-on relationship engine failure.
And while there are plenty of “tow-truck” methods for dealing with co-worker conflict after we've already found ourselves on the shoulder of the relationship highway, there isn’t as much focus on development of a regular relationship maintenance program.
Here are some suggestions for a maintenance plan which can help to ensure that your most important relationships will keep humming along at top speed.
Get to know your vehicle really, really well.
Take time to learn about yourself. Learn about your strengths and your limitations. Find peers you trust who will help you to identify your blind spots in a supportive way. Take classes. Work with a coach. Develop your emotional intelligence. Understand what excites you, what frustrates or angers you, and what hurts you.
Get curious about other vehicles and appreciate their differences.
The more you know about your own strengths and limitations (your vehicle), the more you can understand and appreciate the strengths and limitations of others. When you appreciate the fact that a school bus, a tractor-trailer, and a motorcycle face very different challenges on the road than a standard passenger car, you're willing to see things from their perspective and perhaps you'll even start to drive differently around them. Understanding, compassion and appreciation are lubricants for our teamwork engines.
Take immediate action when you feel strange vibrations coming from under the hood.
The more familiar you are with what your vehicle sounds and feels like when it's running well, the more aware you are when it's not. Often, when we first hear a noise coming from our vehicle, we second guess ourselves. "Did that noise come from my car, or did I just imagine it?" We often wait until the noise becomes a pattern and we are certain that a problem exists before we are willing to let a mechanic look. It’s frustrating when the mechanic can’t recreate the problem and you’ve lost time and money with no solution.
Strange noises under the co-worker hood are likely to show up as a niggling feeling inside of you. It's going to feel like irritation, frustration, separation, or distance. Again, our first reaction may be second-guessing. "Why am I feeling this way?" "Did they do something, or is it just me?" And again, we will often wait for a pattern to emerge before we are willing to have a discussion with the other person.
The longer we wait to deal with these niggling feelings, the more likely they are to turn into resentment, anger, fear, or even rage. And once those emotional check engine lights turn on, it becomes much more challenging for us to have a collaborative conversation with the other person.
Here too, I think people are often fearful that engaging in potential conflict too early will simply result in hurt feelings and nothing will come of it, so it isn't worth their time. However, the difference between a relationship and a vehicle is that when we successfully navigate conflict with others, we actually build trust and strengthen the relationship. And our chances of successfully navigating the conflict with another person are much, much greater when we address the concern after only one occurrence than if we wait until the pattern has become obvious.
Find the common goal.
When we’re focused on driving to our destination as quickly as possible, then everyone else on the road becomes a threat or an obstacle. Everyone driving faster than us is a jerk, and everyone driving slower than us is an idiot. It's nearly impossible to see them as an ally on our journey.
But when we shift our focus to ensuring the safe and timely arrival of everyone on the road, we suddenly see ourselves as doing our part; working together to achieve a common goal. We slow down a bit (maybe). We are more willing to give other drivers space to merge or pass.
In the workplace, it's up to us to find the shared objectives with our co-workers. And to make sure that we are all doing our best to help each other in achieving the common goal. In our book, Ripple: A Field Manual for Leadership that Works, we say, "Mission first, other's second, you...last."
At Trebuchet Group, we believe that great accomplishments require great teams. These suggestions could form the basis of a regular relationship maintenance plan for the members of your team, and help in your race to success. What practices do you make a part of your regular relationship maintenance plan?