A Nonnegotiable For Great Relationships: What It Takes to Work Really Well Together

12I’m currently reading a book titled 12:  The Elements of Great Managing.  It’s based on Gallup’s ten million workplace interviews – the largest worldwide study of employee engagement.  It has some really profound perspectives on what it takes for people to feel deeply and effectively a meaningfully contributing part of organizations and teams.  I’m realizing as I read that these principles apply to every social system like families, marriages, significant relationships, faith communities.

The very first element that produces radically increased engagement among people is “knowing what’s expected.”  Reality-based, clearly stated, shared expectations.

Now this may not seem like rocket-science to you (and it’s not), but you would be surprised how often our relational challenges stem from unclear, unshared, and unreal expectations of each other.

Reality-based Expectations

I had two 2-hour sessions with a couple of faith community leaders who work together as a staff.  Their relationship for the last few years has deteriorated to the point of both people considering leaving and finding separate ministry opportunities.  Trust is at an all time low.

It turned out that both leaders had a certain expectation about each other’s leadership style that wasn’t getting met.  And over time, these unmet expectations created serious tension, frustration, and what appeared to them as lack of respect for each other, and ultimately the disintegrating ability to trust the other.

Once I helped them see that each of their leadership styles were different from the other’s because leadership style is based upon each person’s top five strengths profile not some predetermined template for how leadership is suppose to look, this was able to shift their expectations of each other to a more realistic place.  That new shared view of each other could be validated, honored, and respected – because both styles are good … just different.  It was heart-warming to hear both of them starting to complement and affirm each other for what they now saw as each other’s unique strengths and style.

Expectations of the people in our lives has to be based upon reality – a clear understanding of who each other is and how we’re each wired to be our best.

Clearly Stated Expectations

And we can’t know what’s expected of us unless the other is willing to clearly state their expectations.

As I work with couples and teams, I realize how often so many of us expect others to be “mind readers.”  We simply expect people to know what we’re thinking and what we’re needing without us having to tell them.

Now, most of us wouldn’t admit that’s what we’re doing.  But our behavior would sure indicate it.

Analyze a few of your last relationship arguments.  Chances are you’ll discover that at the heart of the misunderstanding or hurt feelings was your expectation (or desire) for the other person to simply know what you want.  Some how, we give more points if they guess correctly – their attempts to relate have more value if they come unprompted.  Right?

I want my wife to be so intuitive, to read my every micro-expression, to know me so well, so as to just “know” what I’m needing or wanting or expecting.  And if she can’t guess, then at least she should “pull it out of me” by means of her great relational skills of wise questions and sensitive, caring prompts.

But as you and I both know (in our saner moments), this is ridiculous!  Unfair!  And unrealistic!

Most of us simply aren’t clairvoyant.  We don’t have a crystal ball with our partner’s name on it.  We’re not mind readers with extra-sensory perception.  Neither are the other people in our lives.

If we want others to know what we expect, what we need, what we want, we need to know ourselves and then be willing to state it.  Clearly.  So as to be completely understood.  Otherwise, the onus is on us.  Clearly stated expectations.

Shared Expectations

Only then can expectations be shared – that wonderful place where both sides not only clearly see and understand the other, but also where they agree to co-inhabit the expectation.

This third level is a bit more tricky and difficult.  It takes more compromise and commitment to each other; more trust; more desire; more willingness to find and achieve consensus; more persistence; more patience; more grace.  More work.

But when something is mutually shared, it’s worth a lot.  Right?  There’s deep strength to it.  Solid commitment.  A sense of committed partnership and collaboration.  Mutual honor and respect.  A lessening of resentment, anger, and frustration.

Quinn Cook, Mason Plumlee, Sam RowleyThis kind of shared experience (which includes clear and shared expectations) is what leads experts to call basketball “a chemistry sport.”  As a team practices and plays together, the players develop a “tacit knowledge” about each other–they have clear understanding about each other’s roles, strengths, weaknesses, styles, quirks, typical patterns–and this knowledge ultimately enables the team to experience synchronicity.  To the onlooker, it appears almost magical the way players can anticipate and execute and adjust to each other in a unified and effective manner.

Our relationships – our social systems – are chemistry sports, too.  Which means we each take responsibility to develop clear, realistic, and shared expectations and understandings of each other if we want to live and work effectively together.

So how’s your chemistry and synchronicity with the people in your life?