This year I want to focus my New Year’s resolutions on relationships and people, not things.
Yes – January is in full swing. How are the new year’s resolutions going? Did you make any?
I did. I vowed to attempt less screen time, especially before bed. I now keep my phone downstairs and read my Christmas present novel under the duvet, with a smug smile on my face. Fairly easy to tick off. And it’s this sort of stuff we decide to set goals for ourselves about isn’t it?
I want to lose a stone
I want to start running
I want to drink more water
I want to drink less wine…
Some are easier than others. But what’s interesting to me is that we seem to make new year’s resolutions about things and not about people or relationships. Maybe things are easier to control than people, easier to set goals around and easier to achieve. Take a moment to consider – when did you last think about the important relationships in your life – work or personal – and set a goal for yourself to enhance them?
We tend not to. In fact we don’t look at our relationships much at all. Except if they’re not going so well. And then we frustratingly exclaim that those people are difficult and need to change! We throw our hands up in resignation (and reach for the wine…).
When do we learn about relationships?
It’s not our fault. No one teaches us. We don’t learn about relationships at school, not directly anyway (this might well have changed for younger generations I hope with subjects like PSHE featuring more commonly on the curriculum). And by learning about relationships, I mean how exactly do we conduct them? With parents, friends, partners, and colleagues? How do I know what to do to keep the relationship healthy and in good nick? What can I change to enable intimacy and warmth, to create more happiness?
You might be thinking, I don’t need intimacy and warmth in my work relationships, thank you very much. And maybe so. Generally though, human beings are wired to connect. We are social animals, it’s part of our very nature (I have already formed a worrying attachment to Alexa…). When we don’t connect, separation and isolation can increase feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety. And we spend an awful lot of waking hours at work, in relationships.
As a coach at Aspire working with individuals and teams, I’ve become acutely aware of the interactions and connections between people.
Relationships at work
A client of mine (we’ll call her C) before Christmas spoke to me of her distanced relationship with her new boss (M). She got on extremely well with the interim boss before M, and she missed the connection and friendliness she had with him now that M had arrived and was here to stay. This new relationship between them was at first just new, but after a few months it appeared strained, marked by an absence of contact and what started to feel like a lack of mutual interest and respect. C began to feel resentful and demotivated. In our coaching session, we used an exercise to explore the different points of view at play and then we looked at the relationship itself.
Relationships and Systems
In our systems work at Aspire, we often speak about the relationship as an entity in itself as if it has its own intelligence and wisdom. An interesting thing happened: C found herself describing the power that these two smart, highly driven women might generate if they chose to do so together – C was visibly struck by this idea – struck by what might be achieved and how unstoppable they might be together. This was C’s highest hope for the relationship – a hope she had perhaps not let herself articulate.
This conscious realisation gave her the nudge she needed to commit to building more connection with M. Small, manageable actions like suggesting a coffee to get to know each other, which, when she thought about it, she wondered why she hadn’t yet done. I reassured her: typically none of us do. We don’t spend much time thinking about the nature of the relationships around us nor what we can do to positively affect them. We assume the relationship is what it is. And yet, we can actually consciously and intentionally design how we want to be, work and live with other people. After all, at work, it’s the relationships that drive our businesses:
In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.
– Margaret Wheatley, ‘Leadership and the New Science’
Your New Year’s Resolution
So – if you were to give some attention to an important relationship in your life this year, which would it be? What would be your ‘highest hope’? And what can you do tomorrow to take a small step towards it?
I’m off to ponder that with a glass of wine.