Surviving the Relationship Game

By Mike Jay

Most people agree that successful relationships of any kind are never easy. When you combine people from varying backgrounds with different personalities and different views of the world, mishaps are bound to happen. For example, worker number one makes an innocent comment about something worker number two did, and number two takes the comment the wrong way and becomes upset or angry. Even though worker number one didn’t intend to create a hurt feeling, that was the end result.

When you’re involved in workplace relationships, you quickly realize that the people you interact with are “programmed” differently than you. They think differently, behave differently, process information differently, and react/respond to situations differently. As a result, their means become your indirect means, which causes a multitude of challenges. A means is something you’re doing to get an inherent motivation or need resolved. But the motivation or need (the end) is something you need to continually satisfy. So in the case of relationships, as you work with others to achieve a goal (whether that goal is work-related or personal), how the other person contributes to the end result impacts your contribution and how you attempt to resolve issues. And when the people involved have differing means, the relationship can quickly dissolve.

In other words, when you get into any kind of didactic or group situation, your intention gets interpreted by someone else and then played through that person’s instrumentation or programming. So you actually end up with very inefficient means. You’re doing things with good intentions in mind, but because your actions or words are ran through another person’s operating system, you end up with convoluted messages.

Opposites Attract: In terms of relationships, you’ve probably heard the expression that opposites attract. But if two people are opposite, can they really get along? The answer is yes, but only if both people are highly self-aware.

It’s not uncommon for people to form business partnerships with their opposites – they complete each other. Yet, therein lies the dangers. The key is to realize that you’re opposites. That way you don’t even try to get the other person to understand why you think the way you do or feel the way you do. You simply respect the other person – period. Take this example: If you go to a foreign country and you don’t speak their language, you are very careful to not take anything for granted. You spend extra time with inquiry. You appreciate the other person because he or she is trying to communicate, not because the person understands, because the person simply can’t.

Getting this “partners knowledge” starts with self-knowledge. You first need to understand why you do the things you do before anyone else can truly accept you. You have to understand your own programming language, if you will, so you have a clear idea of how you operate and how your means satisfy your ends. Only with this self-knowledge in place can you have a successful shot at partners knowledge.

Group Dynamics: In group dynamics in the office, you experience the lack of resonance and attunement at even greater wavelengths. For instance, a leader wishes to communicate how much she values her people, but doesn’t show it in the manner which her staff interprets. In fact, when you ask most executives how they show their staff that they care, they respond with things like, “I manage our money well,” or “I tell people where they stand,” or “I make sure our company remains true to its cause.” While all of these are very important, few people really see and interpret these actions to show caring.

Groups are particularly difficult because not only do we have individual ends that are obscured by group cultural norms, but in today’s world there is so much noise in our individual lives that often when we’re in a group, all we’re doing with each other is participating in more noise-making. Few people can sort a signal out of the day-to-day complexity. And in almost all cases, our individual and group needs go unmet. That’s why there is so much dissatisfaction in the workplace today – we just don’t know the means that work.

Start Talking Today: Look at your co-workers today and start the conversation with those you interact with. This doesn’t mean any one person has to change to make the relationship successful. You simply have to start the conversation, and change will naturally come from that. If you can have the conversation in the other person’s “programming language,” you’re going to be in a lot better shape. Then you’re talking about how the means can be developed based on the programming language rather than how the means can be developed based on behavior. And there’s nothing worse in an office than to question someone’s behavior, which is what typically happens in the ends versus means game as soon as you introduce another person.

Yes, relationships are complicated, especially when you’re looking at multiple means (ways of doing things) environments. So you can either give a person your “program,” or you can do nothing and let them use their operating system on your means, which generates inefficient behavior.

Even though this is a complex game to engage in, it’s a worthy game. It’s worth playing. It’s worth having that conversation. So start with self-knowledge, as that’s your window of opportunity to learn and get to a deeper level of conversation. Once you do that, you can head off a lot of the inefficient means and have much more productive relationships in all aspects of your life.

Read other articles and learn more about Mike Jay.

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