If you’re not willing to walk away from a negotiation at work or in life, you’re not going to get at least a little of what you want. Standing firm and letting go are core actions when reaching an agreement.
A couple of years ago, my company pitched a big contract. And we really wanted it—for a lot of reasons. However, the client thought we were going to be able to complete the project in a ridiculous time frame. When my team huddled before the phone call to sort it out, I said to them, “I really want this contract. I know you do too. But we have no bargaining power unless we’re willing to walk away. And I’m letting you know, I’m willing to walk away from this one if they don’t agree to our timeline. I hope you’ll understand if I do.”
Burning emotional energy is a cost also
If we took this project with those kind of impossible timelines, we’d burn out our core team in no time at all. We’ve been there before and it isn’t fun. My experience was telling me that if the client couldn’t accept a more reasonable timeline, it wasn’t worth it for my team. We’re in business to make money. But, when you expend way too much emotional and psychic energy, no one ever makes enough money to compensate those losses. I was prepared to let it go.
Because of my willingness to walk away, I was clear about what we could and could not deliver on the phone call, and we came to a more reasonable agreement. But, because I was willing to let it go, it was easier for me to stand firm on my terms.
Why are you holding on so hard?
This is the truth about life. So often, too often, more often than we’d like to admit, we hold on too hard: to relationships, to jobs, to friends, to harmful emotional energy that leaves us wrecked. We let spouses, friends, teachers, colleagues, children, relatives—so many people—make us feel like we have to keep going in all types of situations.
But if you’re not willing to walk away, you’re not going to get at least a little of what you want. So try it the next time you have to negotiate. Feel the situation in your hand. Visualize what it would be like to let it slip away. And get ready to stand firm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
“Whatever game you show them, that’s the game they’ll play.” Lt. Cedric Daniels, The Wire
There’s only one reason to read this blog.
Are you capable of change?
If you’re not, put it down now. I’m sorry if you landed here by accident—pass the URL to a friend.
All things change when we do. And chances are, if you started reading this blog, you’re feeling overwhelmed by your job as a parent, a manager or both. You’re not alone. In 2016, 56 percent of American working parents say they feel that work-life balance is difficult, according to a Pew Research Center study. (How do the other 44 percent feel, and can I get in the boat with them?)
The challenge of parenting is like the Greek myth of Sisyphus who kept rolling a rock uphill, watching it slide down, and rolling it up again. How often do you feel that way as a parent? You climb one mountain with your little people, and then behold! Another one in the distance, with the same rock. Except now, you’re exhausted.
This is how many of my friends and colleagues, in so many different industries—retail, marketing, healthcare, hospitality, food services, financial services—you name it—describe what management feels like. The word I hear over and over again?
Babysitting is different from parenting, in that babysitters get paid. They also get to leave. And managers may get paid (not enough!), but they don’t really get to leave. Work is a constant in most people’s minds. It’s where you spend 40, if not significantly more hours of your week. It’s also something that many of us use to gather self-esteem and understand our places in the universe.
Now I’m not a psychologist, although I do play one at almost every dinner table I’m at. I’ve had a ridiculous amount of therapy, which helps. My professional degree is in communications—I wrote my master’s thesis comparing Save the Last Dance and Dirty Dancing and the evolution of sexual identity politics in the United States (seriously—go look it up. But not right now.). I am a parent of three children who have serious doubts about my writing a semi-parenting blog.
So I’m not exactly “qualified” to write this blog. Except no one on earth is more qualified to write it than I am, because I’m actually doing it. And the reason I’m doing it is that I built a multi-million dollar business from my house while I brought up a young family. And what I can tell you, with every fiber of my being, is that management is like parenting and parenting is like management. When you master the core skills of each, you’ll be more effective at both.
Behavior is a Choice
In his brilliant book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson gives a crisp definition of adulting: Maturity is becoming more selective about the fcks we’re willing to give. Choosing how to show up at work and as a parent is maturity. So often we believe the winds of destiny define who we are: who we were born to, where we grew up, how we were educated. And those things matter—but once you are an adult, they can’t matter that much anymore. You can choose who you want to be. And so can your employees. It’s your job to model to your children that every behavior is a choice. Moods are a choice. The way we act is a choice.
Changing the way you think about this crucial part of your life will change everything.
The most important choice
This blog is dedicated to the idea that we have a choice to work on ourselves so we can show up better as parents and managers. My father-in-law was an educator for more than 30 years. I once asked him, “What would you do differently if you could do parenting over again?” Without missing a beat he said, “I would have worked on myself more.”
“What would you do differently if you could do parenting over again?”…”I would have worked on myself more.”
Think about that for a second. [Second].
An experienced educator understood that at the heart of every choice was who he was, not who surrounded him.
What does it mean to know who you are? It means to understand your values—the principles that you use to make choices. It’s a lifelong journey to understand which values truly belong to you, and which ones aren’t voices from your mental judging panel that should be fired. What old stories are you telling yourself about what you do value?
Time to decide what you really value if you’re going to be effective as a boss, a parent or both.
Working on yourself isn’t just about going to individual therapy. There’s group therapy. There’s self-help books. There’s classes. There’s training programs both in parenting and in management that can help you understand who you are and how you want to approach the people you work with.
Fill your toolbox with the right tools to manage and grow the people you love and care about. And then? Fill their toolboxes.
Filling the toolbox
I was struggling to deal with a situation with my daughter. I was talking to my friend, Sharon Mazel, who writes all those books, “What to Expect when you’re Expecting.” She said to me (as the mom of 4 girls), “Your job as a parent is to help them fill their toolbox. How they use those tools is up to them.”
This blog is about giving you the tools you can use to help both your children and your employees build and shape tools that will help them become the best they can be. They will add these tools to their toolboxes.
Those tools may sit in those toolboxes and get rusty. They may never use them. But you can’t force them to use them. Nor can you force them to use a hammer when they should use a screwdriver. But you can point out to them which tool might be best for the job in the future, and hope that the next time, they will make the right choice.
And that means we have to be brave enough to correct the people around us that we parent and manage. We may have to change to value conflict as a path toward greater intimacy, not something that separates us.
Conflict as a path toward greater intimacy
Our responsibility is to help nurture people to become the best that they can be. Sometimes that means that we have to give people constructive criticism that may hurt their feelings. You may even make them cry. (Don’t ever say, “Please don’t cry.” Just let people cry. Only assholes say, “Don’t cry.”)
You may even make them cry. (Don’t ever say, “Please don’t cry.” Just let people cry. Only assholes say, “Don’t cry.”)
Because of that constructive criticism, people may be angry with us. Most of the time, they don’t just get over it. It may take them a long time to quiet that hurt. But that’s part of the job.
And most of the time, when we talk things out with sensitivity and guidance, when we make constructive criticism a way to show how much we care, then we create better relationships. And better relationships create better people. And if you’re practicing these skills at home and at work? You’ll feel less like you’re rolling a rock up a mountain.
Are parents and leaders really the same?
The goal of this blog is to explore life lessons that apply to parents and managers. But are they really the same?
Let’s look at this chart:
To do those things, we need to know where we’re going and who we want to create at the end of this process. A successful parent waves goodbye to a child who wants to become independent—a successful boss shepherds an employee into leadership. Let’s find out how.
This blog is separated into 3 parts:
Nurture Each Other
Each of the blog posts will be categorized by one of those tags. That way we can learn the fundamentals of Parenting like a Boss; Bossing like a Parent: Take care of you, take care of them, take care of each other.