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Collaborative Minefields

It takes two people to create a pattern, but only one to change it.

-Ester Perel

We live in a relational world. It’s unavoidable that we must, at some point, interact and cooperate with one another. In entrepreneurial positions the necessity to connect with others effectively and consistently increases exponentially. Not only must we work with clients, but also with collaborators – be that a cooperating agent on the other side of the deal, a vendor supplying your deliverables, back office administration, or your business partner (who may or may not also be your partner in life or a relative).

When we work with others, we bring ourselves to each interaction. We do that in the way we listen, what we hear, and how we interpret another’s words, non-verbal communication, and actions. Sometimes our historical triggers join the party and confuse our responses in the present: A business partner asserting their ideas can feel like you’re not being heard. Suddenly you’re no longer in a productive, collaborative space, but squared up and ready to fight to not be “shut down”. If a client always needs second opinions to your expert advice, it can trigger feelings deeper than day to day frustration. Insecurities in line with imposter syndrome, outdated limiting beliefs, or thoughts questioning self-worth can bubble up unexpectedly.

If your partner in business is also your partner in life or a relative, everyday conversations take place in multi-leveled minefields.

What can be done? First, if you’re in therapy, that's where you have the opportunity to dig deep and work on healing the old wounds popping up in the present day. Start there. If you’re working with a family member your younger self can show up and derail the work today. Unless you enjoy those old school interactions, therapy is essential to moving the conversation forward into the present. In the meantime, you can start by

s l o w i n g d o w n.

When we’re triggered we go into reaction mode, you’ve heard of fight or flight, right? What about freeze, flop, or friend/fawn? Yes, the F’s are multiplying. Depending on your patterned response, you may feel the urge to confront (fight), escape (flee), give up (freeze), disengage (flop), or abdicate (friend/fawn). Changing your patterned responses is not an overnight thing; it took years for them to be ingrained in you and it will take some time to re-pattern. If you're engaging with someone with whom you've long shared these conditioned responses, it will be that much more difficult to extricate yourself (especially if you're the only one working on it).

But there is hope.

In any interaction we are looking through the lens of our own experience. All of the experiences that have brought us to this moment shape how we experience it, and the same goes for the other person. Problems begin when we forget that everyone's lens is different. We think that they should know we feel minimized when they assert their idea for how to best proceed with a difficult client or the marketing plan or where to eat lunch, when they may just be excited about a new idea or a well-reviewed restaurant. Depending on what relationship you have with this person outside of business, your reaction will vary. But you can do a few things to help set you up for success (even if you’re not quite ready to work on the deeper stuff).:

  1. Remember you are working toward a shared goal. Be that growing a business or completing a transaction, you are not adversaries. If your goals have diverged, I can help you have that conversation and get back on the same page.

  2. Assume the best. Until you have evidence to the contrary, assume the other person means the best, or at minimum doesn’t have ill intentions (see #1).

  3. Ask for clarification. If something doesn’t sound right to you and you’re remembering that you are a team, working toward a shared goal, ask the other person what they mean and what they’re hoping to accomplish. Become curious about where they’re coming from and ask questions to understand.

Proceed in partnership.

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