I want you to imagine, for one moment, that someone tells you something that impacts your relationships in the most positive way possible.
It’s this moment.
When I married my husband, our wonderful cousin, Susan, gave us the best piece of advice, to date, I’ve ever received.
Beware the wall of crap.
Imagine you’re sitting side by side with whoever it is you’re in a relationship with. You make an offhanded comment, or do something thoughtless—not to be mean, but because you’re just not thinking.
A piece of crap falls to the floor between you.
And it lies there.
Smelly. Messy. A dark smudge on your otherwise good relationship.
Not to be deterred, the other sitting with you thinks, “I’m not having it.” They respond, in kind, without kindness, throwing their own piece of crap on the floor. Before you know it, the space between you in filled with crap. Stupid, small, insignificant throwaway comments and actions that in totality have built a huge wall between you and the other.
The remedy for any good relationship?
Pick up shovel and start digging.
All relationships are different. Marriage is different from friendship. Friendship is different from parenting (do you hear that, parents?). Parenting is different from management. Management is different from marriage.
But no relationship is immune to the wall of crap. Entire countries have these walls. Religions, political parties, sports teams—you name it. There’s a wall of crap for everyone!
Pick up your shovels
So, what can you do? Crap is inevitable. While all of us want to avoid saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, it’s not always possible. You may not have thought your offhanded comment would not become a piece of crap. You may have been in a bad mood. Your boss was putting pressure on you and you put pressure on your team. It happens.
The good news is that there’s a remedy.
The remedy is communication.
Keep the floor clean
The only way to truly avoid the wall of crap building between you and others, is to try to keep the floor as clean as possible. This means:
- Watch changes in behavior: If your children or direct reports start communicating with you differently, or seem annoyed or frustrated, it’s time to take a broom to the situation. Sometimes all they may need is a positive interaction for them to sweep away the crap on their own. Or a challenging conversation may be coming your way. But you’ll only know if you initiate the shoveling.
- Invite feedback: Sometimes it’s worthwhile to ask people: What should I have done differently? After certain conference calls, I’ll call my team and ask them what they thought. It is so hard to tell your manager what you really think, especially if you’re being critical, but great managers want to improve. The more you open the doors to those types of interactions, the better your relationships will be at work. My children are more than happy to correct my behavior, and a lot of the time, they have good points. (Children, am I listening and implementing your feedback? Only you can decide.)
- Find shovels away from home or work: To truly keep the wall of crap clean, you need to leave the environment you’re used to interacting in. This is why companies have retreats, families have vacations and couples go away. Move yourself into a space where you can shovel away at the wall of crap by having positive interactions (not in the car, obviously), and building on those feelings of good will. It can be as simple as going out for coffee, lunch or going to see a movie. Those activities help to keep the crap at bay by taking the pressure out of our everyday interactions.
So, work the wall of crap. The lower you keep it, the easier it is to parent, manage, partner, love, laugh, live.