Whether it’s with your partner, children, boss, colleagues, friends, parents, … sometimes relationships take a turn for the worse.
You keep arguing, you never seem to be able to agree and, no matter what you try and do to solve the issue, there doesn’t seem to be any improvement.
I’m writing this article in response to an email I received recently from one of our readers who, though having problems with a particular relationship, wanted to know if there was anything she could do to save that relationship. Hopefully this article can help her and others too who have the same question.
In this article we’ll explore three related topics and then provide an easy exercise you can use right away to explore any given relationship between two people. The three topics are:
- Our World View
- Values & Expectations
What Do You Do When Things Aren’t Working?
It’s time to change something in your approach.
What you’ve tried before has obviously not worked.
You’ve got to face the situation with a new approach.
So…what else can you do?
When you can’t change the situation or the person you’re dealing with, it’s often a good solution to look inward.
In other words, what can you change about yourself that’s going to improve your relationship with someone else?
‘Why should I change myself? I’m right!’ I hear you say.
First things first…
Let’s examine this ‘I’m right!’
Trivial Example Argument – The Bin Is Full
You tell your partner ‘the bin is full’. 15 minutes later, you are fuming because he still hasn’t taken the bin out. He doesn’t understand why you’re so upset. You both argue.
In your world, you’re right. You do most of the work at home, he could help you and you did tell him the bin was full.
In his world, he’s right. You haven’t asked him to do anything. If you had, he would have helped. All you did was commenting that the bin was full.
There are several lessons to be learned here.
Sending out the message is often not enough.
Do you ever hear yourself saying ‘but I told you that already!’ ?
In order for communication to be effective, the message which is received has to be pretty close to the message that was sent out.
This may seem quite strange but very often we are not heard or at least not understood – even by those nearest and dearest to us. Bear in mind that a large part of our communication is expressed with our tonality and our body language (so messages shouted from another room for example, could easily be mis-interpreted). Communicating is not just talking to somebody but making sure that the other person has heard you and understood what you meant.
If you want more you can also check out this article on How to communicate effectively.
2. We Each Have Our Own World View
Our map of the world is not the territory.
This is an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) pre-supposition which means that we see things in our own eyes (with our experience and values) and, in doing so, we create our own version of reality. Another person will create their own version of the same reality – which will probably be different to yours (because they draw on their own experiences and values).
In our example, we can see that both had their own version of the same event and could both justify their actions through their own experience and values.
What they have to do in order to start resolving their issues is start seeing things through the other person’s map of the world.
Do the same: Look at the situation and the argument through the other person’s eyes, with their background, with their map of the world. Put yourself in their shoes or rather in their thoughts.
If you can take a few minutes to think honestly about it you’ll probably understand better where they’re coming from and what the problem really is between you.
3. Values & Expectations
We are all different.
Something important to you might be totally irrelevant to somebody else.
I’m going to use another NLP concept to illustrate this: Intrinsic values.
Intrinsic values can be inherited, compensatory or a result of your own judgments and life experiences. They affect your decisions, your approach to life, your motivation and behavior patterns.
Mismatching of intrinsic values is a common cause of misunderstanding, stress and conflict in life.
When people speak of a personality clash it is invariably a mismatch of values.
Our values can also shape our expectations of the world and people around us, which can in turn influence our reaction to things, good or bad, when these expectations are either exceeded or not met. In general, it’s best to try and have less expectations then we are more likely to be pleasantly surprised, but in order to achieve this it may mean taking a long hard look at our core values as these can shape our expectations.
If we can’t adjust our intrinsic values, the least we can do is understand them and this will help us to manage our expectations.
Intrinsic Values Exercise
Let’s have a little exercise now.
I have listed below a list of NLP intrinsic values. They come in pairs (towards/away from, options/procedures, …). Each pair represent 2 extremes of a characteristic and each individual will fit somewhere in between. Each extreme comes with negative and positive points.
Note: For the sake of brevity I haven’t explained each one in painstaking detail. Hopefully they are clear enough from the information below, but you can always ‘google’ these or ask me in the comments.
– Go through the list and rank yourself on each intrinsic value scale.
Move Towards Goal
+ Goal oriented
– ‘Gung-ho’ / Leave things unfinished
Move Away From Goal
+ Good risk assessment
– Overly cautious
+ Likes choices
– May procrastinate
+ Very efficient
– Procedure may become more important than the job
Internal Frame of Reference
+ motivated when little feedback
– may disregard sound advice
External Frame of Reference
+ asks and listens to other’s advice and comments
– needs constant feedback
+ looks after self
+ good team player to the detriment of self
– decisions based on others
+ thorough undesrtanding
– bogged down
+ good strategist
– head in the clouds
+ lives in the now
– can be late
+ good planner
– poor enjoyment
+ gut feeling
– efficient/cold, unfeeling
+ likes routines
+ tries out new ideas
– for changes’ sake?
– Now, go through the list again and rank the person you’re in conflict with.
– Notice any big disparity. These will be sources of conflict.
Armed with this knowledge, you can better understand where they’re coming from. You can also decide to move slightly towards them.
Do you live in the now when your partner loves to have everything planned? Try and plan a bit more.
Is your boss a good strategist when you’re bogged down in details? Try and see the bigger picture.
If you want smoother relationships, don’t assume there’s no possible solution.
Resentment and Anger
It could well be that even though you go through the exercise above and see loud and clear the differences between you, it’s just too hard. It’s too hard because there is too much water under the bridge, you’ve had too many arguments and there is just too much hurt, anger and resentment there. Well, to let go of that anger and resentment you are going to need to forgive yourself and the other person in the relationship so that you can move one. Read our article on How to forgive (and why) to find out how to do this.
Another thing that could get in the way of moving forward is if you have limiting beliefs. The above exercise is really useful, but it’s not going to help you if, for example deep down you believe that you don’t deserve to be happy in your relationship (which would be a limiting belief). Read our article on limiting beliefs to find out how to smash your limiting beliefs to pieces and turn them into empowering beliefs.
A Quick Recap
Relationships are not always easy, but that’s because we’re all different. We all see the world differently.
When we communicate, most of us communicate through the ‘lens’ of our own world view, assuming the message that has been received is identical to the message which we thought we’d sent out. This is not always the case. A useful way to check this is to first of all appreciate the fact that we each have our own view of the world, then understanding as best we can the recipient’s view of the world, check how they may have received that message. Look for confirmation that your understanding was correct in their body language and what they confirm back to you. If in doubt, check.
Once we can see the other person’s point of view and understand what makes him/her tick, then we are able to communicate more clearly.
Remember also that we each have different values which drive us and influence our thoughts, decisions and expectations. Once we understand this, and our own world view as well as those of others around us we are better equipped to manage those expectations and avoid arguments. In general it is easier when we have as few expectations as possible – then we are more likely to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.
It’s not always easy. It requires efforts and mental flexibility. But it’s worth trying.