The Business of Relationships

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A friend recently lamented to me that she wished men could treat relationships like they would a business deal.

In business, is it common practice to talk nice with a potential business partner over the course of a few dates then vanish into thin air?

When you’re not interested in the deal, you’re honest and upfront about it. No need string anyone along.

Besides, stringing someone along in a business context, choosing to act without open and honest communication, could be bad for your reputation.

And future business.

The world is small, whose to say though today’s business deal didn’t work out, there isn’t an opportunity for other ways to collaborate down the line?

But my friend has encountered a number of guys who apparently aren’t in the business of open and honest communication.

What happened to meaningful cliches like honesty is the best policy? Or the truth will set you free?

I can’t blame her, though, in our relationships with the potential “one”, it’s easier to stick our heads in the sand or to run away than it is to be honest about how we feel and work through those challenges together.

I’ve done it. Actually, I’m a repeat offender.

This was actually what my 21 days of writing in November evolved into. It was the first time that I did not stick my head in the sand, or run away.

It was the first time I sat down with myself and faced my fears deep within myself for an extended period of time. It was not a one-off conversation, I made it my business for those three weeks. And I committed to making a habit of being vulnerable.

It was the first time I was able to be completely open and honest with the “one” about all my problems.

And trust me, I have a handful.

But as long as we’re being open and honest with each other, I know you do too. We all do.

I suppose the only thing that sets us apart are the people who are honest with themselves about their issues and those that aren’t.

But that’s too easy isn’t it?

Let’s step back for a second and re-think for a moment. How many types of us are there?

First, there’s the people who are honest with themselves AND with others about their issues. A rare breed.

I wonder how much of us actually reach this nirvanic level of self-awareness, self-understanding, and vulnerability?

Second, there’s the people who are honest with themselves, but may not be confident enough to share this with others.

Third, there are the people who know their issues, but may not have found all of them. Or maybe they have yet to realize just how those issues affect them.

This number three speaks most to me, that’s where I was earlier this year.

Fourth, there are the people who have figured themselves out, and everyone else out. It can be such a challenge to wait for others to figure themselves out. Life will be better when that happens.

Who did I miss?

So this friend of mine has been sending me these great articles on marriage that I’ve been totally digging.

The one that kept me up last night and has me still thinking today you can find here.

It’s an absolutely brilliant read, if you choose to read with an open mind.

Here’s the skinny (i.e. the first three reasons Why We Will Marry the Wrong Person):

One: We don’t understand ourselves

Two: We don’t understand other people

Three: We aren’t used to being happy

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

All of us are crazy in very particular ways. We’re distinctively neurotic, unbalanced and immature, but don’t know quite the details because no one ever encourages us too hard to find them out.

A good partnership is not so much one between two healthy people (there aren’t many of these on the planet), it’s one between two demented people who have had the skill or luck to find a non-threatening conscious accommodation between their relative insanities.

The problem is that knowledge of our own neuroses is not at all easy to come by. It can take years and situations we have had no experience of. Prior to marriage, we’re rarely involved in dynamics that properly hold up a mirror to our disturbances. Whenever more casual relationships threaten to reveal the ‘difficult’ side of our natures, we tend to blame the partner – and call it a day. As for our friends, they predictably don’t care enough about us to have any motive to probe our real selves. They only want a nice evening out. Therefore, we end up blind to the awkward sides of our natures.

One of the greatest privileges of being on one’s own is the flattering illusion that one is, in truth, really quite an easy person to live with.

With such a poor level of understanding of our characters, no wonder we aren’t in any position to know who we should be looking out for.

This problem is compounded because other people are stuck at the same low level of self-knowledge as we are. However well-meaning they might be, they too are in no position to grasp, let alone inform us, of what is wrong with them. Naturally, we make a stab at trying to know them. We go and visit their families, perhaps the place they first went to school. We look at photos, we meet their friends. All this contributes to a sense we’ve done our homework. But it’s like a novice pilot assuming they can fly after sending a paper plane successfully around the room.

If the title wasn’t enough to reel me in, then I can definitely confirm I was hooked after the first line. And I couldn’t stop reading after reading why we don’t understand ourselves – or others.

But, please, before you go any further with what I have here, please open this up in a new tab and read from start to finish.

I wish I could say that anything I write beyond this point could match the level of, “How We End Up Marrying the Wrong People.”

I regret that might not be possible.

But I won’t stop without trying.

This selection got me back to thinking about my friend, business, relationships with the “one”, and the business of relationships.

Having learned much of what I know in business much like how I’ve learned the most important lessons in life – trial by fire – I’ve come to know that before we get too far into the conversation, the best business deals I’ve done include an early conversation about all the bad stuff that can, might, and/or will happen.

Funny, in romantic relationships we don’t want to touch this topic with a 100 foot pole.

And why not hit these challenges head on?

Knowing what I know now, this is probably one of the most informative and intimate conversations you can have with a potential “one” and could do incredible things for mutual understanding and empathy with such a proactive approach to problem solving.

I’m having a hard time imagining a conversation that could be more meaningful.

Even if we are super self-aware and think of ourselves as highly empathetic, it’s a lot easier to express empathy when you have more information than less.

It’s also a lot easier to express empathy while calm, cool, and collected rather than under stress and duress.

This may come natural to some of us, but I’ve only been able to improve through preparation and practice.

So if you haven’t already, Read This. And share it with someone that matters to you. I’ve already shared it with my family.

And now I’m sharing it with you.

I’m curious, what do you think?

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And if you’re already tired from reading, take a look at the video below (4:00), it’s almost (or equally) as excellent.

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This was my first time on The Book of Life site. I’ll definitely be back for a return visit some day, sooner than later.

At first I had a different picture in mind, but then I got to thinking about vanishing. I came upon this quote by John Quincy Adams from this page on Pinterest that seemed to put a twist on the relationship between patience and perseverance,  disappearing and vanishing.

The running away model of vanishing cannot hold a candle to how difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish when one is patient and perseveres with what and whom matters most to them.

21 days of writing taught me that. And it’s remarkable how the difficulties and obstacles of yesterday almost no longer seem relevant, even exist.

Think I’m crazy? Give it a try yourself. A true, concentrated effort. You might surprise yourself. I know I did.

Answering a Question with a Question

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This past week, we had an enjoyable session with Professor Mikinari Higano on active learning. You might surmise from the title of this post that his class focused on questions.

Professor Higano is the founder and director of the Business Leadership Program at Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan. I love that when he’s not focused on the leadership art of asking questions he plays tennis, cooks Italian food, and travels around Europe.

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of questions. A previous version of myself liked to say things like, “questions are more important than answers.” And with all the conversation these days about the importance of questions, I’ve needed to re-examine how I view, think about, and formulate questions.

The exercise we went through with Professor Higano was smack in the middle of where the simple meets the complex. Basically, think of a question. A problematic question, that is. I urge you to try based on the same criteria we were given:

(1) It must directly affect you (e.g., problems that bother your friend only, no matter how serious they may be, are not appropriate for our purpose);

(2) You must be seeking a solution to the problem immediately (e.g., if you are looking to find a solution over a span of a year or longer, that problem wouldn’t be appropriate);

(3) You must feel comfortable sharing and discussing the problem with the other members (e.g., “having a hard time to find a good date” may be a serious problem and you might be seeking an immediate solution, but if you feel uncomfortable discussing such a topic with peers and teachers, that’s not appropriate);

(4) The problem’s solution must be within a reasonable reach; that is, the problem must not be too grandiose or big in scale (e.g., don’t say you’re looking for a solution to change a country or other similarly great problems of the world);

(5) At the same time, the problem must be complex enough so that you do not see an obvious solution (e.g., problems such as “I’m having a hard time to get out of the bed in the morning” or “I always find myself procrastinating while I’m at work” have obvious solutions and therefore, they are not appropriate); and

(6) Do not try to come up with “interesting” or “funny” problems. In fact, humorous problems discussing which makes it hard for the seminar attendants to keep straight faces have nothing but negative effects on the class.

Given the array of conditions noted above, you might as well wonder what problem is appropriate; nonetheless, most if not all people who are living serious lives do have lots of problems that are highly appropriate to bring. Such problems involve a number of stakeholders with various, maybe mutually contradictory interests (e.g., a solution may satisfy Person A, but it will upset Person B, etc.), and therefore, you are struggling to disentangle the problem and find the best solution.

If any of you are not sure if the problem you’re going to bring is proper or not, even after you read carefully my instructions and check your problem, you are welcome to ask me. It is important because the performance of the sessions, especially in the earlier phases, is affected by the properness of the problem.

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I will likely share with you the question I chose in a future post, but, for the moment, really, take a moment and think about yours.

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When we arrived in class, armed with our questions, only two of us actually had the chance to participate this time around. Going through the process, led by our table’s emerging expert facilitators, Anusha and Promotosh, we spent 50 minutes each to dissect the problem of two classmates.

I had two main takeaways:

The first – while I love asking questions, it can be hard to only ask questions in response to anything anyone says. Now, the problem presenters (as they were called) could share insight with us based on the questions we asked them, but the rest of us participants were required to use questions to move the discussion along.

And you know what? There was an interesting energy around the discussion that I had not quite considered before. Many people like to tell it how it is: to share their knowledge, their perspective, to give advice. And what if we did all that, by communicating this knowledge, perspective, or advice via a question?

The second – the first problem presenter lamented her lack of participation. She found it challenging to speak up, to ask questions, to be an active part of conversations, especially in larger groups. And she wanted to explore why.

Now, in the second session, I think her question was probably the most important question of the entire 50 minute discussion. While I can’t remember the exact question now, I do remember how I felt when she asked and the conversation shifted.

And now that we have the takeaways, where is the action involved?

1 – next time you are in a conversation, what would it be like to reformulate a follow-up comment into a follow-up question?

2 – in a small to larger group setting, by always keeping your questions inside, might you be depriving others the opportunity of hearing a conversation-altering question?

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In searching images based on “answer a questions with a question”, I didn’t come up with much that struck me on Google images. Further exploring through a “question design” query, I made my way to something designed by Brandon Kauffman here on logogala.com. It looks like Brandon has more of his updated work on his self-addressed site here.