“That’s just how it is,” says my friend about his family.
Is that what you believe about your family also?
Or is it with work where you say, “Well, that’s life.”
I get it.
We don’t know it can be any different.
For me, it was my husband who helped me see things differently.
We were college age, and he was a new boyfriend, over at my house for a Friday night dinner for the first time. He noticed something about the “discussion” at the table. Mostly, that I didn’t feel too good about it afterwards.
“That’s how it is,” is what I said. I explained how I brought up topics that I wanted to share and my dad always had a way of shooting down my opinion and making his own sound like the winner.
“Hmm. But, you don’t have to argue with him if it doesn’t feel good,” my husband pointed out.
That’s when the insight hit.
Oh, it DIDN’T have to be this way. I could change how I engaged in the conversation.
That began a process of change for me.
Now here is the surprising thing that happened when I stopped engaging in those conversations the same way: I kinda I missed something from those conversations with my dad. I know he did too.
It turns out I was wrong about “That’s how it is.”
What I thought was “what is” was “That’s how we connect.”
The discussion in its unevenness WAS the relationship.
Even though I didn’t feel great afterwards, I did feel connected.
That was what I missed.
That’s the hard thing about family.
We have patterns of communicating that are how we have the relationship.
We don’t really think about it.
And, most of the time this patterns of communication, what i call our scripts, have been inherited.
My dad’s way of having a discussion with me was very similar to how my dad had relationships with the people his family or origin.
It was, still is, very common in my extended family to discuss a topic and to share disagreements.
Some family members have certain moves that they do to get their idea heard more or to show that they are right. Some are more forceful than others.
It is a way of connecting, and isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad.
Part of what had made me feel bad was that I wanted to share ideas with my dad and hear his approval. I wanted to hear something like, “I see what your’e saying, Leah. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Good for you!”
But, I wasn’t going to get that.
Because my dad didn’t know I needed it! He engaged with me from his point of view and needs, unaware of mine.
My dad is a very sweet, tender man who loves his family very much, but can also be stern and forceful when it feels necessary to him.
As a young adult, I was more aware of wanting approval from the stern and forceful authority side of my dad than of my dad’s tender side wanting to connect with me.
So, how did I change the dynamic?
I stopped engaging in arguments that didn’t feel good.
And, I found new ways to connect with my dad.
It turned out that something I thought, “That’s just how it is” was changeable.
Where in your life are you accepting a relationship as “That’s just how it is” where maybe it could be different? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or you can get in touch here.
Leah is a certified Executive Coach who specializes in leadership, communication and resolving conflict. Clients who work with Leah move from being mentally and emotionally overwhelmed by self-doubt, struggle and conflict (inner or outer) to developing a confidence and an air of relaxed authority that builds their presence and stature as leaders. They go on to build confidence and empowered conversations that create harmonious relationships and prosperous businesses. Leah specializes in working with the next generation in the family business who find their voice and gain influence in their families through coaching.
One day when I was in fifth grade, I noticed that the teacher was being unusually unkind to my best friend at the time who was also the top student in the class.
This friend was usually very well liked by all the teachers, so it was very unusual.
The teacher called her, “Blondie!” and yelled at her what to do.
I remember growing uncomfortable and feeling guilty for staying quiet. For leaving my friend defenseless.
After a while, the teacher stopped teaching and opened a conversation about what she had done with my friend. I don’t remember the details, just that it happened.
She explained that she had arranged with my best friend and her family to stage that relationship. (It had been planned in advance for us as an experience that would help us understand an upcoming discussion of the Holocaust. I don’t remember anything else we did related to the Holocaust that year.)
The question she asked us has stayed with me for a long time: “Why didn’t you speak up?”
A few years ago (which was close to 40 years after the incident!) the fifth grade teacher reached out to me on Facebook. It was fun to connect, as she had stayed a part of my life into the beginning of my own teaching career before we lost touch.
One day she commented on a post I made. She made a connection between the post and who I had been in fifth grade. She asked me if I remembered the above incident.
Then she said something that floored me.
She said that I was the only one who had asked her why she had talked to my friend in that way.
According to her, I HAD in fact spoken up.
That wasn’t how I remembered it!
It was a while until timing could bring us together to talk about the incident from fifth grade. But, we did finally get together to share how we each remembered it.
According to my teacher, I had in fact spoken up and asked her why she was treating my best friend that way.
I took that in.
When and why had that the memory shifted so much?
Why did I remember feeling so powerless in that situation?
Then, she shared what had impacted her the most.
Apparently, in the discussion that we had after the staging, she asked the class why we hadn’t said anything while it was happening. (In my case, I internalized the question – why hadn’t I said anything sooner.)
According to my teacher, I answered, “Because you’re the teacher.”
She still remembered that answer, and the impact it had on her. It made her think differently about the events of the Holocaust.
We learn in school to obey, to conform and follow the rules.
So much so, that even while I may actually have said something impactful, I remember feeling voiceless.
Clearly, it’s one thing to speak and another to feel that you have an empowered voice.
Just because we speak doesn’t mean we feel heard.
The struggle to feel heard continued for me well into my adult life.
Slowly, I discovered two things.
1) I could have and already had had an impact. People had been listening even if they hadn’t showed it.
2) By finding my empowered voice, I could create the life I wanted.
At work and at home.
So, are you ready to go from powerless to empowered?
Last spring when things were starting to open up in California, one of my clients had a dilemma.
Two of his key employees did not feel so keen or so safe coming back to work.
And the owners in the business, his parents, were impatient to reopen.
He couldn’t figure out what to do or say to bridge the conflict.
Make them come anyway?
Not his way.
They were too valuable.
So how could he get the employees to come back and feel safe?
Through coaching, he developed a new idea.
He decided the employees to be involved with setting up the protocols and guidelines for the business.
It turned from being a difficult conversation to being an empowering conversation.
Not only did he manage to get his employees back to work and appease the stressed owner/parents/, he engaged his team in a way that built collaboration, trust and leadership.
Where we perceive an impeding conflict there are often new opportunities for connection.
Ready to be able to recognize new possibilities?
Join me next week for a free event Navigating Difficult Conversations. You can register at Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/navigating-difficult-conversations-tickets-111188780636
You know that relationship that you think can’t change?
The one that doesn’t feel the way that it should?
Where you have the same argument again and again?
It’s so frustrating, right?
You feel powerless to change it.
No matter how you say things, the other person gets upset.
Or maybe it’s the other way around?
You get upset at almost anything they do.
Too often we believe that these relationships are stuck, and we wait, hope for the other person to change.
We want them to see how they are wrong, how they are hurting us so that they can change their behavior.
We may even get frustrated and lose our shit.
(Or is that just me?)
And when this is someone in our business, our productivity and our revenue suffers.
We are so used to thinking this is “just how it is.”
I want to tell you that it CAN change.
My clients do it all the time.
The key thing I help my clients do is build their influence and their ability lead others towards stronger communication, better relationships and a more prosperous business.
I did it in my own life and now I help my clients to do it.
And, it all starts with listening.
Not getting the other person to listen, but with how WE listen to them.
You’re thinking, “Oh, that won’t change anything…”
I did it in my life, and my clients do it all the time.
You can’t start by changing someone else, you start by affecting something that is within your control: how you show up.
By changing how you show up in the relationship, you affect change in the others around you.
You CAN lead yourself and others into harmonious relationships and properous businesses.
If you give me the honor of hearing your story over coffee, I will give you some tips you can start using right away to deepen your listening.
Sometimes when someone hears about what I do, they get an idea of someone they know that I can help.
Often those ideas are about people who they are close to – a spouse, sibling, child or best friend – who could really benefit from empathy, support and seeing things from a new perspective.
And, that can be a great referral!
….the person talking to me has a pretty strong opinion about how their dear one should be doing things.
…they think that I could help their loved one to see things more clearly
…they think that maybe with my help their loved one would be able to change their behavior
I understand why talking to a dear relative or friend can be challenging.
When we give our opinions, they don’t really want to listen.
They get defensive.
It becomes an argument.
Yeah, not that fun.
And people know I won’t be trying to tell their dear one what to do, but I will help them discover for themselves what they want to do.
(Or they think that their loved one will listen better to an outside expert!
The thing is, you don’t need me to change that friend or relative’s perspective.
I can help you be an influential leader who can have conversation that can leave an impact and make a change.
You can have a conversation where your mother will hear that you fear for her safety and would like her to stop driving.
You can have the conversation with your sister about how she spends her money.
You can have the conversation with your employee about how they can improve.
You don’t have to be the one in charge or the one with authority.
You just have to learn how to listen with empathy, show support and ask questions to help them see things from a new perspective.
You can be an influential leader no matter your relationships or title.
Want to know how? Let’s chat!