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Broken Things

| June 16, 2023

by Rebekah Dorn

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Rebekah Dorn, Ph.D., Senior Director of Strategy & Outreach at Florida State University. She is a MOR program alum.  Rebekah may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where everything seems to be going wrong? The washing machine keeps giving you an error message and your clothes are full of suds. Your family keeps passing around the “pink eye” virus and you wonder if you will ever stop seeing red. The car will not crank in the middle of the day, and you are left stranded in a parking lot. Oh, and there is a last-minute, high-priority work deadline that needs to be done before the end of the week. There is a reason the saying “When it rains, it pours” is so popular because we have all had days (or weeks) where nothing seems to go our way.

What do we do when things keep piling on? After a good cry or ironic laugh, we get busy doing the arduous work that is required for us to fix the things that are broken. We research the weird error on the washing machine or call a repair expert. We take our kids to the doctor and routinely sanitize everything in the house, car, and office. We call our friend to get us, and our car is towed to the mechanic shop. I speak from personal experience when I say that just hoping that the washing machine will magically starts working, or the virus will just randomly disappear rarely happens. We must change the situation by putting one foot in front of the next to solve it.

Several weeks ago, I had a tough conversation at work that did not go as well as it could have. Emotions were high, words were said, and everyone involved could see the imaginary error message blinking with multiple exclamation points just like my washing machine: ERROR!!!!! Has this happened to you? Have you witnessed relationships fractured in a matter of moments or trust shattered before your eyes? If not, maybe you can think of a relationship that is especially challenging for you, where you and this colleague struggle to agree on almost any topic. Or you are not exactly sure why things are newly tense between you and a coworker, but something has changed, and like me with my washing machine, you are hoping things will magically change back to normal by themselves.

Just as with the examples above, we must do the work to repair what is broken. As leaders in our organization, we must acknowledge the part we played in straining the relationship and put in the time and effort to repair them. It does not matter who holds most of the blame. This reconstruction requires some humility, a commitment to the larger organizational mission, and a genuine desire to have a working relationship with that person. Admitting we are part of the problem and could have handled the situation better can be hard, especially when we feel that the other person is as much to blame for the conflict as ourselves. But you are hurting more than just yourself – your team and the larger organization are suffering from a strained relationship. We cannot meet our collective goals if we avoid someone out of fear of conflict or awkwardness.

Here are some ideas on how to create or restore healthy relationships:

  1. Be more than a passive participant in the relationship. Be committed to model the way you want to see conflict handled within your organization. Intentionally set an example of how you would want to be treated and consistently treat others with an elevated level of respect and professionalism without bringing past experiences (and emotions) to the conversation.
  2. Envision the desired future state of the relationship. In MOR, we talk about the desired future state and how important it is to think strategically about how to solve a problem. We can apply the same principles when we are repairing strained relationships. I challenge you (and me) to think about what you want from each working relationship. What does a successful relationship look like? Of the things that you can control, think of all the things that need to be done to create that successful alliance. Then, take just one step towards investing in that relationship.
  3. Get to know that person outside of the work environment over lunch or coffee. Take time to learn about their family or their interests. The coworker who appears at work only makes up a percentage of who the whole person is. Getting to know the other parts of their life may give perspective on how they approach certain work issues. Find that common ground, acknowledge that you both want the organization to be successful, and use that as a starting place.
  4. Truly listen to the core concerns, show empathy to other points of view, and step outside your comfort zone if needed. As humans, we crave to be heard and understood. Sometimes, conflict occurs because people feel like they must be loud to be heard. Consider if it is not the topic that is important to the other person, but instead it is simply that they want to be heard. Listen to understand.
  5. Seriously examine what changes are needed in your own behavior. This feedback is a gift for us to grow and learn. Do not miss an opportunity for your own development and growth because you were so worried about stating your own point of view and how you were wronged.

MOR teaches relationships are currency, and we must have a sincere desire to work together because our different perspectives make us stronger and more successful. Whatever the issue is, we are working towards a larger mission and goal than ourselves. It is not about who is right and who is wrong. It is about doing the important work that can only happen when we work together.

Do you have a relationship that needs to be rebuilt? Spend time reflecting on one small step you can take toward repairing that relationship. Do you need to get to know the whole person, step out of your comfort zone, or change your own behavior?

Together, as leaders, it is our job to acknowledge the part we play in relationships and put in the time and effort to shape our organization a little more each day. Don’t shy away when things get hard. Be the leader your organization deserves and fix the broken things that need repair.

Last week we asked about strategies for increasing passion and motivation.

  • 26% said proximal goal setting with rewards
  • 20% said personal relevance
  • 19% said finding mentors
  • 18% said societal relevance
  • 16% said finding fun

When we collectively consider increasing passion and motivation, setting goals and rewards were most common for us. Those proximal goals – splitting a large goal into smaller, shorter-term goals is especially important as we consider ways to recognize both our progress and that of others on longer-term efforts. Recognition of early achievements helps build momentum for later goal attainment. As with some other recent weeks, these results were fairly evenly distributed. This highlights an important dimension of motivation: it is highly personalized. Understanding and addressing each individual’s relatively unique combination of motivators can help us increase motivation across our teams. And as we are reminded in this week’s reading, enabling that unique motivation starts with healthy relationships.