When working with married couples who are struggling or just want to grow in their relationship, we often encourage them to adopt the mindset of “In this relationship I am the biggest problem.” This is not an attitude of self-condemnation. And it is not saying that the other person is without any faults. It is rather the realistic acceptance that we are responsible for our own thoughts and behaviors. We are not likely to be successful when our goal is changing the other person.
In leadership situations where we have relational struggles, the same mindset is also appropriate. Leadership is influence and influence is only achieved through positive relationships. So what should be our response when we wish to lead someone with whom we have some conflict or someone who might be obstinate or have some social skill challenges?
If our focus is on trying to change the other person, some outcomes might be as follows:
- We might be so focused on the other person’s issues that we fail to see our own faults. (Everyone has some weaknesses.)
- We might appear arrogant, driving the other person away.
- We might fail to recognize or understand what is bothering the other person.
- We might not recognize our own contributions to the conflict or lack of communication.
- There might be some resentment developed in the other person.
- We might drive a further wedge or build a higher wall in the relationship with our attitude.
On the other hand, if we adopt the mindset that “I am the problem in this relationship” we will search for ways to bridge the gap and heal or grow the relationship. Even if we are convinced that the other person has a relational problem, we should look for the ways that we can grow as an individual or that we can adapt to work with the other person. With this mindset we might see outcomes as follows:
- If we’re focusing on our part we are probably growing in some way.
- We might show vulnerability that we are human and have weaknesses, making ourselves approachable.
- We might see things from the other person’s perspective.
- We might show humility thus inviting others into relationship.
- We might discover some solutions that actually work to bridge the gap.
- We might develop some empathy for the other person and the struggles that they face.
- We are more likely to build a positive relationship where we are able to influence.
Of course it is ideal when both parties adopt this mindset, but one needs to take the initiative. Be the change. Focus on your own behavior, not immediate results or change in the other person. Know that you are doing the right thing by doing your part. Find people who will hold you accountable and encourage you to persevere. Recognize and affirm changes you see in the other person. You will probably be surprised by the changes you see, either in yourself or in the other person.
Do you have a relationship that is struggling? What behaviors do you need to adopt to bridge the gap?