The Workplace Doctor: If the US and Iran can have a thaw, can I achieve one with my boss?
Bury the hatchet with the boss and you both can move on
If Iran and the United States can have a thaw, then maybe my boss and I can too. We never see eye to eye and now the communication simply does not happen — we are existing in two different worlds. How can we can navigate our differences? SK, Al Ain
Good morning SK, and as your letter suggests, things can surprise us at any time; if Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani really can move in a positive direction together, then why shouldn’t you and your boss? Don’t the global leaders have bigger fish to fry, and more to lose too, than you in your workplace?
Interestingly though, there may be some commonality between the two cases. At some point both situations have become gridlocked, and an impetus will break the hold as it has with Mr Obama and Mr Rouhani. Wouldn’t it be great if we could find that impetus without requiring a change in leadership? Could that opportunity be found in:
• Leaving the past where it belongs — in the past
• Concentrating on the situation and not the people, while involving a trusted third party in a mediation capacity
• Believing in a new direction and shared vision
1. The past is exactly that yet we so often wish to hang on to it. It makes a good story great, embellishing each and every word. It has a hold only if we allow it to. The past is still sitting right next to both Mr Obama and Mr Rouhani, in a big box marked “the past”. However, without focusing on it, it simply has no ability to influence the conversation. Do you ever hear yourself using the words “You said”, “It happened”, “When they saw that”, which unfortunately connect the past to the present.
2. With two managers not seeing eye to eye and not even speaking, there surely is a performance implication.
Performance issues can quickly become nasty if personal accusations come into any discussion. Rather, when these issues are approached from the angle of facts concentrating on a situation or action, the solution is simply a desire for different actions. The connection of this to your situation is that there are bound to be facts on both sides and if a seasoned negotiator can draw these out during a conversation, the reality may appear to be a lot more “manageable” and a lot less emotive, thereby forming a wonderful base from which alternatives may spring.
3. Are Mr Obama and Mr Rouhani simply trying to get out of the gridlock, or is there clarity on a future. Can it be described, drawn, discussed and felt? Are you trying to win accolades for moving through an impasse or will efforts towards reconciliation genuinely support a new direction, one that will serve?
If I were you, I’d be requesting time together, clarifying my intention of meeting up, sharing my frustration that the limitation of a broken relationship is having on productivity, suggesting alternative actions along with a description of how you are willing to co-create a new future. If this does forge positive progress, build in a mechanism that will keep you in the present, maybe with a set of progress checks, or coffee catchups. Then again SK, you are not me.
Put it this way, at least you know you tried, and if nothing else your conscience is clear. Some people go to their graves with a burden of bitterness called the past. Do you really wish to shoulder that burden?
Carpe diem — seize the moment yet manage expectations. Rome would certainly not be rebuilt in a day, yet would not remain flattened either.
Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague.