The truth is a lie

How do we solve problems when people disagree on what truly happened?

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Recently, at a basketball game (yes, again), the ref made a call that one of the fathers disagreed with. When the ref ran by, the father said, “Come on, that was a foul.” The ref smiled, and with the whistle in his mouth, said, “Could be.” But he didn’t change his call.

This doesn’t only happen at high school basketball games. Millions of people watch sports games and disagree with the refs. Sometimes the refs, who are right there on the field, watching the action, disagree with each other. And on instant replay, millions of fans call it one way, and millions call it the other way.

How can this be? Isn’t our definition of truth that we all see the same thing and it lines up with what truly happened? In other words, what is the reality of that moment? And how do we decide that?

This happens as a parent on almost a daily basis—our children disagree with each other, sometimes violently: “She’s the one who left the bathroom a mess. He’s the one that started. Those leggings are mine! Mommmmmeeeeeeeeeeee.”

Conversations in my marriage can be the same way: “I told you this yesterday. I thought we agreed you would make the appointment with the orthodontist. You said you were going to order pizza.”

This doesn’t happen so much at work (go team), but every once in a while, I feel like I’m not getting the whole story about a problem with a client or project. Or, I’ll talk to different members of my team and get the same story, but with nuanced differences.

Why does this happen? Isn’t the truth, the truth? Either it happened one way, or it happened the other. “They are this daughter’s leggings. We agreed a long time ago it was your responsibility to order pizza every Thursday. You said the client never complained.”

Who owns the ‘truth’?

Philosophers spend a lot of time arguing about what truth is. I do not understand half of what they say, honestly. What I do know is not one person holds the truth. The truth is not a shared reality, and we can rarely get people to agree on whose ‘fault’ it is. Instead, as managers and parents, we need to decide, “How am I going to handle this in absence of any proof?”

There are three ways I’d like to suggest:

  1. Instead of focusing on what happened, focus on how to manage it: This kid’s perception is one way. The others differs. Who cares? Looking back can cause paralysis through analysis. Work on the way forward: To avoid the legging mix up again, please put your initials on the tag in the back. Don’t share clothing anymore if you want to avoid this happening again. And I’ve given you a solution, so don’t bring me into it again.
  2. Is the struggle real, or is it a call for attention: My father-in-law once said, “Many times children fight with each other as a way to get attention from their parents.” I think this is true with direct reports as well. Amping up the drama in a work situation can make your manager focus on you in a way that makes you feel special. This is a mistake. Most managers—and parents—would prefer a drama-free day. Life has a way of throwing enough drama at us without manufacturing it. If you are the manager, or a parent, ask yourself if this is a drop the rope situation with the pair who are arguing about the truth. Or try to understand how to resolve the issue without turning the volume on the drama up.
  3. Create a boundary that says work this out together: Sometimes, I listen to people arguing about what really happened, or what their take on a situation is, and I don’t care. I’ll say to my kids, “Work it out together and don’t involve me.” This works about 50 percent of the time. The other 50 percent I get involved anyway. But hey, I’ll take 50 percent. At work, I’ll ask my team, “You’ve brought me a problem. Why don’t you come up with two or three solutions, and present them to me. Then we can move forward.” (I don’t do this enough with my kids, but after writing this blog post, I think I will. They are old enough now to tackle advanced problem solving.)

I did not sign up in life to be a judge. Or a ref. I don’t want listen to both sides, and try to figure out what really happened. Instead, I want to be presented with ideas on how to solve the problem, not focus on the problem.

The ref was 100 percent right. It could have been a foul. But he didn’t see it that way and he called it like he saw it. The game had to move forward: next game, next play. Cultivate an attitude of bypassing the realities to the people involved in the conflict, and move forward to solving the problem.

Drop the rope

When do we give in to a power struggle and when do we hold our side of the rope taught?

I was in Florida over the holiday break and got a new phone. (Wow, why is that such a difficult process?)

The guy helping me started talking about his girlfriend. I asked, “How long have you been together?” He said, “Five years.” I responded, “Five years? Give that girl a ring.” (Why I say these things to people, I don’t know.)

He looked at me and said, “Did she send you in here?”

After we laughed, he said, “Listen, the minute I give her that ring, she wins. Right now, she’s on her best behavior. She makes dinner. But as soon as I give her that ring, that’s all over.”
Besides for saying to him, “Dude, do not marry this girl,” I also had one of those moments—why do we often see ourselves in a tug of war with those closest to us? Why do relationships feel like a power struggle?

Who is in charge?

In Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, one of the author’s friends says to her, “At the root of every conflict is the question: Who is in charge?”

I think about that jewel of wisdom constantly when I’m frustrated in a situation. These questions run through my head:
• Am I frustrated because I’m not in charge?
• Do I think I’m in charge and others aren’t listening to me, so I feel powerless?
• I am in charge: why am I resisting having my authority questioned?

I have this particular ‘tug of rope’ dynamic with one of my children. We’ll call that person “D” to protect their privacy.

D wants to be in charge. Clearly, I’m the mother. I should be in charge. (Complicating this is that I’m the youngest in my family, I was never in charge, and therefore, I yearn to rule over all seven kingdoms, all of the time.) When D and I argue, the mature part of my brain says, “This kid is arguing with you about which one of you in the boss. Drop the rope, Ahava. Drop it.”

But, I struggle. When is it the right call to drop the rope? Conversely, when is it important to dig in my heels? And when does it make sense to let D ‘win’ this one? If D wants to drive late at night and it’s unsafe, I hold my end of the rope tight. But if D wants to hang out with her friends instead of study, is that really my rope to tug?

Reframe the rope

One of the most humbling things about parenting and management is learning we are not in charge. Rather, parenting and management, when done successfully, is truly a partnership between the child and the parents, the employee and the manager. No one person holds the power. Instead, the power is shared.

We don’t drop the rope. We reframe the rope.

Think of the phrase, ‘help me help you’. This phrase is at the root of stopping the tug of war. We say to our children and our employees: How can we work together by you telling me what you need to feel powerful in this situation so we can both achieve our goals? Let’s have an honest, straightforward conversation about it.

I reframe with D: it’s unsafe to drive after midnight. Your safety is my responsibility. You may not like it, but I’m not budging on this decision. D, you should study now, but you’re old enough to make your own choices. If you are choosing to spend time with your friends instead of studying, you need to be prepared to own those consequences.

The rope connects us

When we reframe being in charge as helping the other person be the best that they can be, then the rope is what connects us, not what we’re trying to control. When you create a supportive and consistent environment with boundaries, for both children and employees, you’re sending clear messages that both of you are powerful in the roles you play.

Sometimes, the people you are with aren’t the people you want to be connected to at that moment. We don’t always choose our employees. We don’t always choose aspects of our children’s personalities. The rope is there and it’s real.

Instead of constantly pulling on it and meeting resistance, ask yourself, “Why am I pulling here? Am I just hurting myself by wasting exertion on this issue with this person? Or am I holding tight for the right reasons?” If the answer is yes, then keep holding. But if you keep feeling that tug and it’s getting harder and harder, it might be time to ask yourself, “Is it time to drop this rope?”

After all, if you really are in charge, then there is no power to take. There are just good choices to be made about the best form of guidance and support for that unique soul.

H/t to Lisa Himmelfarb for this idea.

The way it starts is the way it is

You can thank my friend Joel Tabin for this one.

This rule is true 90% of the time. It’s so true that it’s critical to remember when dealing with new events in your children’s lives as well as managing or hiring an employee.

Pay attention to the beginning; it’s the blueprint from which all else will follow. If someone is late to an interview, they’re going to be late to work. If a child is chronically disorganized in the first grade, chances are, unless you intervene, they’re going to be chronically disorganized throughout school. People are who they are. They don’t change until the pain of making bad choices leads them to want to change.

The beginning is the blueprint

I was once hiring a salesperson. (This has happened several times, unsuccessfully.) The guy in question seemed great (let’s call him Bill), but he didn’t seem hungry enough for the job. Bill said all the right things. But there was no…urgency to the process. And the number one thing salespeople are taught? Always be closing. He didn’t seem concerned enough to be closing the deal and getting the job offer.

For salespeople, competition is the electrical impulse that keeps their heart pumping. They want to win more than anything. If they aren’t hungry, then they probably aren’t born salespeople. And when you’re hiring a salesperson, you want someone whose energy screams salesperson.

But Bill was the last candidate standing and I had invested so much in the process, I felt like I had to hire him (This is called a sunk cost. It’s a bad idea to make a major decision on a sunk cost. More about that in a different post.)

How you know the future isn’t bright

On the day I wanted to make the offer, Bill was driving down to Florida with his kids and didn’t want to pull off the highway to take the phone call. And that was the Aha moment for me. He was about to get a job and he didn’t want to pull off the highway to take the phone call. That told me all I needed to know. If I offered him the job, Bill wasn’t going to pull off the highway to make a sale for my company either. And I needed someone who would have stopped the car to make a sale (like I have done. Many, many, many times).

I know you know how the story ends: An awkward conversation with Bill. But that’s okay. He didn’t have the right energy for me or my company. Letting him go would have been even more awkward.

Yellow flags turn red fast

Pay attention to all the clues in the beginning. If it starts weird, or is uncomfortable, or all these yellow flags pop up, PAY ATTENTION. Things can change, yes, but most of time, if it’s weird, it will stay weird.

Some of you are thinking: But I had first dates that were uncomfortable that turned into a lifelong partner. I had weird interviews that turned into great jobs. I had a colicky baby who became a sweet little girl.

But for all your stories, there are even more stories about how it just started great and continued to be easy, smooth and obvious. Even so, your stories still exist about how things can morph into something better.

So, yes, things can change. My point is to pay close attention to the beginning. Often, with the benefit of hindsight, you will see that you learned everything you needed to know about how things would progress from the beginning. So, watch that start. It will tell you most of what you need to know.

Forgiveness is an art, not a science

Oprah says it best, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.” When someone wrongs you, especially to your core, it is so hard to “forgive and forget.” If you’ve figured out how to do this, you should be writing your own book (seriously).

To master healthy relationships, we need to practice the skill of forgiveness.

And when we forgive, we don’t forget. We might even have a scar on our heart forever. But we need to be able to move forward, knowing what we know. Even being afraid it will happen again.

I once had an employee who resigned. She told me she was going to be a full-time mom. A few months later, I noticed she had her own work website listed on LinkedIn. I followed the link, and as I read it, my shock grew to horror. A former employee took almost all of my intellectual property and used it in the content of her site. Even her claims about how expert she was were laughable. I was indignant, “I taught her everything she knows! And she lied to me. How dare she?”

When I asked her about it in a pretty vanilla email, she claimed it was just for a few projects she was doing. But it didn’t look that way. It looked like she had taken everything I had taught her and hung up a shingle.

By the way, if she had been honest with me, I would have been more than okay with it. You want to grow your talented employees so they feel confident to move on to the next thing. People can’t be with you forever. Little birds have to fly from the nest. Hopefully, as parents we stick around forever, but we still want to see our children become independent, make their own decisions and live their own lives. When we are managers, our jobs is to usher the people we care about on to the next phase of their journey.

But lying just isn’t cool.

Because I was so hurt, I had to decide if I could trust my next employee in that position. It could have been the same thing all over again—she could work for me for a couple of years, and then leave with all of of my company’s intellectual property.

And there was absolutely nothing I could to stop her—or anyone else for that matter.

My mom says, “The greatest obstacle to wealth is inflexibility.” But I think one of the greatest obstacles is also trust. I needed to trust my next employee. So, I had to forgive the old one.

It’s taken me quite a few years not to reference it or talk about it. It used to feel like such a betrayal. Now it just feels like a chapter. In the end, how was my anger toward her serving me? Or my company?

If you can move forward from the things that feel like daggers in your heart, you will be a healthier person, capable of forging intimacy with the people that you care about, and the people that care about you. And you’ll bring that healthy intimacy to work, so that you can trust your employees to get things done.

Children will do and say things that will be so hard to integrate into your own reality of your family dynamics. Unfortunately, some parents see their children as products they’ve created. But, children go out into the world and are their own people. They’re going to wrong you. They’re going to disappoint you. They’re going to see things differently from the way you do. And you will need to forgive them too. You will need to give up the idea that the past could have been any different with them as well.

Forgiveness is a practice, and it won’t happen overnight. So be patient with yourself as you work through learning to forgive.

Can you tell me what you heard?

I’ve been getting such a positive response to this blog. Please like, comment and share if you enjoy what you’re reading!

There’s a well-known idea that people listen to respond, not to understand. In fact, George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

When my kids were toddlers, I used to ask them to put their shoes neatly together, side by side against a wall “like they’re married.” (Let’s encourage positive feelings about marriage—we’re together! Like shoes.)

But. Here I am, 13 years later, and the shoes are still all over the house. They’re in the living room—like RIGHT, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR. Why are they there? Is it so hard to put them in your cubby or your room or the front hall closet? I even bought a shoe tray and put it in the entry way. To be fair, the shoes are now in the entry way. But, they are just adjacent to the shoe tray. Not IN the shoe tray. Why is this?

I’m not going to solve this universal conundrum today. (Although, I do think there’s something: Why are these shoes still in the middle of the goddamn floor? might make an excellent parenting book title.)

Point? You can say things again and again with no hope of directions being followed if you don’t communicate clearly.

Tease out what they heard

I employ the following tactic with my children and my employees: “Can you tell me what you heard?” It’s an old marriage therapy trick, “What I’m hearing you say is…” If you truly listen to responses, you will find that the other person didn’t hear you. Instead, they were thinking about their lunch, or the boy they like in school, or why their boss lectures them constantly about dumb shit.

It’s your job, as a parent and as a manager, to tease out what was heard. By employing this single technique of asking, you will avoid miscommunication. Directives you thought were clear, like, put you shoes here, become clearer when you know the person heard “I don’t care where you put your shoes.”

And, if there’s a clear directive in place, chances are people will follow it. Especially, if you attach it to carrots and sticks: “If X happens, then you can expect a bonus or to be fired,” or “If I find these new $100 Adidas sneakers in the middle of the floor again, then I may just throw these in the garbage.”

Teach each other how to listen to the other

The other beautiful thing about this technique is that you teach each other how to communicate. When you start asking what they heard with every meaningful conversation, you learn the other person’s listening rhythms. What do they actually do hear when you speak? Then, you can modify your own communication tailored for that child or colleague. Some people need a story. Some need direct communication and an email follow-up. Understanding what they hear when you ask them will train both of you to sharpen your communication with each other.

Really, though. If you have any suggestions about what to do about the shoes, please contact me. I just cannot figure out why my children have this thing with shoes—is it just my three? Let me know in the comments below!

Never run to a code

Once at a basketball game (yep, again), I was sitting with my friend Jennifer Offer, MD, watching both of our daughters playing.

At one point in the game, one of the girls on the other team got hurt. She was writhing on the court in pain, holding her leg. I watched Jenny very carefully. She’s a passionate pediatrician who has such a caring, generous heart. But she didn’t run to the injured player. Instead, she was on the balls of her feet, ready to jump, but she waited to go down to the court.

I kept muttering under my breath, “Ok Jenny go down, go down,” but instead, she watched as the girl’s coach helped her off the court limping. I said to Jenny, “Wow, I’ve never seen you wait to help a kid who is hurt.” Jenny turned to me and said, “That’s one of the first things they teach you when you’re an intern; never run to a code.”

Interfering in hurt is interfering in learning

So often, in both parenting and as managers, we want to run to a code. We know we’re in a position of authority to help, and for many of us, rescuing our kids and our employees is a way of life.

But it’s bad for us and them. Here’s why: They’ll never learn. Getting hurt and moving past the hurt results in building self-esteem and resiliency. You can’t learn to be a competent leader or adult if someone is always riding in to save the day. (Obviously if someone actually gets hurt, physically, then you may want to get involved. As my husband always says, “It’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt.” Then we peel our children off of each other.)

Push them forward, even when it hurts you

Never running to a code saves you. If you’re always racing to rescue, both employees and children become dependent on you. They’re always coming back to you to solve the challenge. And we don’t want them to come back (except for Thanksgiving.) It’s our job to push them forward. Just watch a mother bird.

Do what Jenny did. Take a few minutes, or days, or months to watch the result of your employees or your children being hit, psychologically. See if they can limp off the court, without your help. You may need to support them, but try not to solve it right away. That’s how they’ll learn to solve it on their own. Watch it carefully, gather information, but don’t feel the need to get involved until they ask.

And if they do ask, “What should I do?” the best reply is, “What do you think you should do?”

Always be hiring, always be firing

Recently I was talking to my friend Aaron who was lamenting the attitude of a manager he supervises. He said, “She complains that she doesn’t want a supervisor’s job. She says there’s too much hiring,” and I said to her, “As a manager, that’s your job—you should always be hiring and always be firing.”

When I shared that anecdote with some friends recently and told them I was going to include it in the book, they looked at me in horror. “How do you plan on firing your children, exactly, Ahava?” (You know, some days—just kidding.)

It’s not the actual hiring or firing as an activity in and of itself that I think is the point here. It’s the attitude Aaron is espousing, which comes down to:

  1. Understand the people in your life and the roles they play to support you
  2. Identify the people who are not supporting you in the ways that you need
  3. Lose the emotional vampires
  4. Get comfortable with the revolving door metaphor of life

While raising 2 teenage girls, I truly see this as excellent advice for life. Watching their different friends come and go, and how they get closer with some friends and pull away from others when things change is a sign of a healthy attitude and a growth mindset. Our own growth is predicated on how well we understand ourselves, as well as the impact others make on us.

When you understand that friends and colleagues and mentors and mentees come and go, you open up the emotional space to let others enter your life. While there is grief in losing close friends, employees and colleagues, that’s the reality of life.

Cultivating the attitude of “always be hiring, always be firing,” will get your teams and children attuned to the realities of relationships with others.