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Just Tell Me The Game Plan

I am thankful there is a screen, an internet connection, and software between us. On the other end of this video call is a hulking example of a human, and he is not pleased currently. I am certain there would be violence if this call was in person. His stature is not at all uncommon in this industry we do most of our work, and sadly, neither is his demeanor. “I’m not here to get into my feels, I’m here for advice” he gruffs as he moves closer to his screen, as if somehow to signal he is also closer to me, who is thousands of miles away from his home in Germany.

He, a former famous Rugby player, now turned gym owner, has been referred to us, and this call, because he is dealing with a staff issue. By issue, I mean a recurring nuisance that shows up like a cold sore, repeatedly, and at the worst times.

I am certain he will either book a plane flight here, or at least terminate this call if I continue to press, however, letting up is not what his team deserves. He has a relatively large staff, and facility, and without judging him too much, I know this success is not for the work he has done in the business, but instead on the Rugby pitch. He has carried his success, his name, and his fortune to this industry, and his royalties of his reputation, and the limits of finances are now present. He is clearly frustrated, and the last thing he wants to hear is me ask him again “Why do you care”.

He like many who are faced with that question, typically quips the usual answers. Losing money, clients, facing failure, etc. These are all problems for certain, but they are not the actual problem. More money can and will be made, failure is not fatal, and clients can be saved. Care is a bad word to many people. Perhaps because it’s been downplayed or relegated to the “caring” industry, like nursing or nannies. To care, or be cared for in today’s day and age appears to be wearing your heart on your sleeve, aka a billboard over your head that says weak. Oh, the irony-laden in this construct.

While I would not assume you, the reader to be so gruff, and standoffish as this gentleman, I suspect that you too, in possession of a business, have found yourself haphazardly also in possession of employees, and they do not seem to care as much as you would like them too.

“We can be honest here, or we can part, but you either have a hole in your heart, or a block to your brain, so again, I ask, why do you care?” and with that, the hail mary sent. Truthfully at this stage in coaching, I am not interested in the confrontation, but without conflict, there is no resolution, and if he isn’t going to open up, I cannot work from outside the engine compartment. His face red, he pauses, likely considering his options, which consist of ending the meeting, releasing a litany of insults, or accepting that without help the problem persists. To my surprise, truly, he leans in, at risk of being obsequious, and says ok, If you wanna go deep let’s go deep.

While there is likely a lot of value in expanding on the rest of this consultation, I’ll paraphrase for speed of digestion. There were tears, and there were smiles, acceptance, and resistance. The root cause here is that to care for others is to be cared for. And I only share his story as if I started this post out by speaking of Caring, most would ignore it. For the same reason he wanted to. We would all love to get through anything without emotion if possible, it is just that when dealing with people, it’s impossible. What’s worse is that our very beliefs are often the cause of our problem, and if we simply went with what’s natural, albeit vulnerable, it would all go much better.

So, you have found yourself as the boss. A bit problematic as for most who read this, you have ended up here, in possession of this business likely because you left the corporate world, a terrible boss, and vowed above all else, you would never be a boss. Then the business grew, and you needed humans to help, and now, someone has to wear the hat.

Your insecurities run deep. This is not an accusation, all of ours do, mine included. No human is without them, so the sooner we all accept that we too have insecurities, we can then work to address and use them, rather than try to hide them and react to them.

Caring is hard, as it’s typically played to some degree on your own insecurities. Whether that’s happening in your business or your past, we all wall off, and when something touches on it, we ignite. You are not alone in this reactionary relationship you have with your feelings, however, you are going to have to address it because it is the constant in the relationship.

At this point, you likely fall into one of two camps reading this, the agreeable camp and you identify with above, or the resistant camp which denies they have a caring problem. So for ease of argument, I’m just going to move on to the solutions, and you can self-diagnose as you wish.

I have to spare you the deep dive into the mechanisms of care, the limbic system, our tribal nature, and the drive to belong because this would become an entire e-book, not simply a blog post to provoke thought.

People are hard, and that’s a good thing. It makes them human and you too. The secret is reciprocity, conflict, and consistency. 

Reciprocity is a delightful word to say, but it is the key to the emotional, or compassionate lock. It is the action through which a relationship is formed. Humans are wired to care, like it or not, it’s part of our genetic makeup. Part of this hard wiring is mirroring. In that, we will in certain situations, mirror the stimulus. Like yawning. However, like above, my stonewalled newfound friend was willing to go in, because he knew I was in. I had to share vulnerability for him to match it. Whether you fall into camp one or two, I’m not saying you need to cry together to bond, but, no relationship can be built without reciprocity, as without mirroring, bonding is limited. Yes, this means stepping into vulnerability, but only so much as being aware of your insecurities, and instead of protecting them, exposing or at least working with them. 

With our clients in coaching, we work through a lot of how these manifest themself, and for many, it’s far more insidious and pervasive than one would assume, and worse usually all subconscious. You can do this without a coach too, it’s just heavier work. It takes reflecting after each conversation and asking yourself how you could have entered that differently, reacted differently, and most importantly served them differently. Reciprocity, at its core, is about service. It’s entering each conversation with the intention of serving them, not getting what you need.

Which is all a strange segue into the second tier being conflict. As conflict seems to be anything but caring, and you are likely thinking conflict is what you are good at. However, conflict is a bit different than argument or frustration. Conflict is confrontation, and that simply and truly only means, awareness of a problem, understanding of a problem, and a willingness to resolve a problem. For most, conflict is simply awareness of a problem, and little willingness to resolve. This is an argument, not conflict, it’s emboldened whining. 

Conflict like many complex human things, seems to exist in Irony. It is embracing abrasion, to increase smoothness. Conflict then is like sandpaper. When applied erratically or randomly it interferes with the surface, often making it worse, but when applied strategically and systematically layered, it creates a smooth surface, the likes of which would not exist otherwise. Sandpaper works by knocking down surface interruptions, and leaving in its place a smooth, uninterrupted surface. Walking around sanding everything, however, would leave you with a lot of work.

You have to appreciate conflict as the tool it is. Like sandpaper. It is the only way to create a situation that allows for resolution. Which, is the purpose of conflict altogether. A partnership or relationship is defined as two or more people working together for a common purpose. Without conflict there is no resolution, and without it, no common goal or purpose.

I can write an entire post on conflict alone. For today’s purpose though we will simply focus on the most important part. You learn to see it for value, rather than avoidance. Conflict is the baseline of every relationship you have in life, coaching, personal, and professional. This is not permission to be an asshole… This is instead permission to be understanding. To ask questions is confrontational, to be relentless is confrontational, and to be curious and inquisitive is confrontational. Without conflict, we become yes people, and we tip-toe, rather than tread confidently into the unknown.

Which lands us firmly on the third pillar of people. Consistency. Consistency is the pinnacle of the theoretical hierarchy of relationships. It like sports, is often the starting point for most aware people. However, like sports, it must have its foundation laid first if you are to be effective at consistency. The very nature of the name consistency suggests everything you need to know about it, to show up predictably, consistently the same every single time. Which in theory seems quite simple. However, without laying the foundation of a relationship with conflict, and reciprocity you will be left regularly in unpredictable circumstances, left instead to react, rather than respond. This is the key distinction of success of consistency, Are you reacting consistently, or are you responding consistently? The difference between is minimum, the outcome is maximal.

We all have a friend or person in our life we like, maybe even love or trust, however, we ultimately never know what we are going to get from them. By all accounts a good friend or person, they just aren’t the pillar of consistency. In conversation, they often are distracted by a phone notification. In times of need they likely come through, but late, or only after reminders. They are constantly being pulled in a thousand distracted directions, leaving you knowing full well that when you need them, you are competing with all of the above. So, you rarely lean on them. But when this person is you, and you are the boss, as I assume you are, it is no surprise why things aren’t moving forward. Your lack of consistency is what is in the way.

If the person at the front is unpredictable at best, they are unapproachable. When they are also the decision makers this means few things, ideas, get brought to them. That’s bad for obvious reasons. When this person is also likely the most experienced in the room this is also problematic as few questions ever get posed for their expertise. In response, teams are left to figure it out on their own, and that rarely goes as well as you would like. Additionally, and most importantly, without consistency you are left as the only one who dreams. When no one is approaching you to compound the dream, you are left to do it alone, and worst of all, do it from a place of reaction, rather than proaction. Your dreams without consistency become reactions to problems, rather than inspirations for a future.

Where would you rather spend your time? In a place where service and reciprocity are the currency of communication, where conflict exists but only as a medium to create solutions, upon which all things are predictable and approachable? Or, someplace where everyone is reacting to fires, conversations are about problems that seem to pop up like whack-a-mole, and little if any conversation is about the future, Instead, it’s about the past problems, and that’s only if you can have the attention to communicate?

The answer is very clear, the former is a place of empowerment and purpose. The latter is almost every affiliate we have consulted with. Which is fantastic, as it means the solution is clear and simple, we clarify what it means to care, so that they, and hopefully one day you, can instead learn to be confident in their leadership and communication.

Reciprocity, conflict, and consistency are large theories in themselves, but as it applies to interaction, try entering each situation with these three questions:

  1. Who would I like to be, if I were meeting with me?
  2. What is the root problem, how can I help make them aware, and create a solution?
  3. How long can someone or something, have my attention without distraction, how can I improve it?

To show up consistently and confidently the answer is really simple, you must be very intentional and proactive in every area of your life. This is obviously very difficult as almost all of our current lives are lived in reaction. This doesn’t need to be this way, and truly the simplest solution is just awareness. The resolution then simply becomes intention and action. This is the framework of success we use with each of our 1:1 clients, and it’s the same one you can use when working with your clients and team.