Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 33: When do we prioritize the relationship?

December 29, 2020 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 33: When do we prioritize the relationship?
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Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 33: When do we prioritize the relationship?
Dec 29, 2020
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"Work happens inside a container of relationships. The relationship is a resource that we can draw on when we're doing the work. It becomes an asset for us. It allows us to do harder and harder work when we're working together. And so, when that is strong, when it's working well, when it is an asset we can draw on, we don't need to spend as much time or as much focus maintaining it. We need to spend some because over time, there are things that come up. But when it's working well, we can actually kind of let it unfold, and we can really focus on the work that we're trying to do together. I think when to prioritize the relationship is when we notice that it's not working well – which is, of course, the time when we are least likely to want to focus on that."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Show Notes Transcript

"Work happens inside a container of relationships. The relationship is a resource that we can draw on when we're doing the work. It becomes an asset for us. It allows us to do harder and harder work when we're working together. And so, when that is strong, when it's working well, when it is an asset we can draw on, we don't need to spend as much time or as much focus maintaining it. We need to spend some because over time, there are things that come up. But when it's working well, we can actually kind of let it unfold, and we can really focus on the work that we're trying to do together. I think when to prioritize the relationship is when we notice that it's not working well – which is, of course, the time when we are least likely to want to focus on that."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Paul:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation about exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Karen:

I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

Each episode, we start with a question and see where it takes us. This week's question is, "When do we prioritize the relationship?"

Paul:

I think for longtime listeners, the surprising answer is going to be "not all of the time." Because while we talk a lot about the importance of relationship and relational space, and sort of being in that here on the show it's not the only thing we think about. And it's not the only thing that's important. And in fact, oftentimes the way that I describe this is that work happens inside a container of relationships. That the relationship is a resource that we can draw on when we're doing the work. It becomes an asset for us. It allows us to do harder and harder work when we're working together. And so, when that is strong, when it's working well, when it is an asset we can draw on, we don't need to spend as much time or as much focus maintaining it. We need to spend some because it, you know, over time, there are things that come up. But when it's working well, if we can actually kind of let it unfold, and we can really focus on the work that we're trying to do together. I think when to prioritize the relationship is when we notice that it's not working well which is of course, the time when we are least likely to want to focus on that.

Karen:

That is so so true. Yeah, and I think it is an asset. I just want to name that I think it's an irreplaceable asset or a non-substitutable asset. There may be lots of things that you use to work with your project. But if you're trying to work on a collaborative project, which is the assumption here, doing that without a relationship is going to be costly, to the point that it's hard for me to imagine that you would choose to do that. At the end of the day, that that is a piece of the pie that you absolutely need to have. And so when it tells you it wants to be worked on, is going to be a really essential time to pay attention and work on it in whatever way. Mm hmm.

Paul:

There is a model from Organizational Development, thinking about two different types of work that groups need to do together. And one of them is task work, which is the working on whatever the the stuff it is that you're there to do is. The stuff that's aligned around your purpose, like why you're actually working together. And then there's the OD term for this is maintenance work but it's the when you notice that you're not making progress on your task work, not because the tasks are difficult, but because the group isn't working well together, you have to sort of step back and look at how is it that we are working together and work on that. And that's really for me, that's that's another way of saying we need to prioritize the relationship here. We need to look at, "Okay, hold on, how are we trying to work together? Do we have alignment about what our goals and what our purpose is? Do we have alignment around what our roles and responsibilities with regards to this work are? Do we have alignment around how we want to work together our actual working procedures, the way we're going to do stuff? Not just who's doing it, but how are we doing it?" Going through those things. We often assume that if there are problems in how we're working, that it's interpersonal, that it must be something between the two of us. But I actually encourage a lot of my clients to think first about those first three things. Figure out is the way that we're working together aligned with what we're trying to do. Let's not assume that it's because you and I could never work together or that we hate each other we have, we have impossible personal conflict. Let's assume first that we misunderstand how we're supposed to work together. And so the the key to me is that when you notice that task work is hard, not because the work itself is hard, but because the way the group is approaching it, the way the group is trying to solve it is hard. That's a clue to start looking at, "How are we working on this together?" And that's when we want to start thinking about the relationship.

Karen:

Yeah, I want to be careful that we don't say here that it's a bad idea to work on the relationship before that. I'm a big fan of prevention as well and work on relationships, because it makes for a better wonderful work. Yeah, so there are lots of reasons to prioritize relationships, in addition to because we're in conflict, or because our tasks are not getting done or, or those kinds of reasons. But I want to point to also when not to focus on relationships. And it's when you can afford to pay the cost of not focusing on the relationship. And that is a real thing. Or to say it a different way, when the cost of focusing on the relationship, meaning, is it that we would miss a deadline? Or is it that, you know, whatever that cost, we would have to give up to focus on the relationship is when that cost is higher than the cost of not working on it? Right. So you want to just really weigh the cost to knowing that there are costs in both directions?

Paul:

Absolutely. It's the the sort of thing that really, for me benefits from a little bit all the time, right? Yeah, I absolutely agree. You don't want to wait until things get horrible, right? Because then one, the work to repair is much, much harder. And so if we're focusing on how we're working together a little bit all the time. Sort of anytime there is a like, we've done some work together, okay, now, and you know, in an agile team, this is going to be we're gonna have a retrospective on a regular basis. We're going to think about, where are the things how do we want to improve the ways we are working together? How do we want to improve our working relationships? We build that muscle. And clearly, we could go for longer without having to do that. But by doing it a little more regularly, there are always things that could be better, that are annoying us that aren't as smooth as they could be. And if we spend a little bit of time regularly, then that prevents a lot of heartache later on. But you don't have to go overboard on that. So yeah, I think it's, it's, you know, spend a little bit often, even when you could potentially afford not to, because that's often the times when it's the cheapest like to think about it that way. The cheapest way of doing it little bit, very often, rather than having to do a whole heck of a lot, when you're probably the least capable of doing it.

Karen:

I want to flag a couple of other times that you might not want to focus on the relationship, or at least not push the relationship work. One is in cases of abuse. Anytime there's an abuse happening, where it's harmful to keep engaging, and that can also happen with cases of privilege, of racism, of sexism of those may be places where sort of doing the vulnerability kind of work that we talked about in relationships is not a good idea. And it really fits the previous frame. Those are places where it's extremely costly, where it's just flat not safe. And not safe in the sort of stretch the safety way. But in the really "it's not safe, don't do it" not safe way. And so that's one place where I wouldn't and the other I want to point to is when the person you would like to be doing the relationship work with or or think it would be useful to be doing the relationship work with just isn't up for it. Like they're just not going to do it. And shaming or guilting or otherwise attempting to force them into a relational space with you. I'm not saying it wouldn't be worth it, maybe except I just think it would never work. It just doesn't get the job done. And I would encourage us to think about that being a reasonable thing. There are moments in life when relationships work just isn't going to be possible for any number of reasons that you may or may not get to ever know about that other person.

Paul:

I have certainly worked through any number of situations like that myself. And I think the thing that is most useful for me in those moments is to remain open to the possibility. And also to sort of flag that I'm willing to do this work with you together, to try and repair this, to try and figure out how we can work through this, but not to demand it and not to count on it. And what I have found and in many of those cases like that work just never happened, right. We never really did prioritize the relationship. We never really were able to fix that. And in a few cases, sometimes it was a long time later, where the other person was finally ready to do the work, and we were able to do that, and it was really useful. So it's remaining open to the possibility, not demanding it, not even necessarily even expecting it. But not shutting it off.

Karen:

And also not telling yourself the story that you are therefore helpless. Because I think that they aren't willing to work with me on it does not preclude me from learning what this conflict has to teach me. It does not prevent me from thinking about how do I want to show up in this? Who do I want to be in this? It doesn't prevent me from getting help from maybe a co-worker or a coach or a consultant or maybe a therapist but I can go out looking for support and help or best friend or a spouse or whatever and work through what's my reactivity to this, why am I so triggered by this, what's not working on my side. I absolutely can keep working on my side, for me for the good of the partnership for the good of the project mostly for me and my growth and that can still be useful, even if it doesn't change them at all, even if they don't engage in it at all. So I'm not getting rid of giving you a get out of jail free card that if that person is abusive that the thing to do is just ignore it and hope it'll go away or whatever. Soing my own work on my side of that is still absolutely recommended. So I guess I wouldn't say don't prioritize the relationship work, just maybe don't prioritize doing it with them, at that moment.

Paul:

And the through line in sort of all of these is just thinking about doing the math. What are the costs of doing it or not? What do we think will happen as a result of trying to do the work or not trying to do the work? Being cognizant about it. And it's funny to me that we would say when we're thinking about when do we prioritize relationships, we're saying we should do the math, because it seems very impersonal. But it is, I think, important to remember that this is all part and parcel of the same thing. It's about achieving whatever our purpose is, it's about moving ourselves and our work both individually and collectively forward. And it's about being clear-eyed about, where we're likely to be able to make progress and not, and not just charging ahead and not just always picking one thing, always focusing on that, but really making good choices, about having discernment about when we prioritize what.

Karen:

And I would just add to that, that when you're doing the math, you're not just measuring the costs, you're also measuring the benefits. Because building that foundation, building that asset going forward, absolutely has productive pieces going onward. And so really looking at cost benefits in both directions. Benefits to me as growth, benefits to the team as a team that's working better together. And yeah, I would consider it differently if I know I'm going to be working with this person for the next year to 10 years than if I think that my need to be able to work with them is going to go away in two days. And also what do I have to learn from this? Do I think this is a thing that's going to help me more broadly? Or am I really just needing to get through with this person? So I think weighing the costs, and the benefits really is what tells you when to prioritize. And I think the tricky part about that is being willing to be really honest with ourselves about the actual costs and benefits and not telling ourselves a fake math story that allows us to do the comfortable thing.

Paul:

Yeah, yeah, sometimes you need to work through it. And sometimes you just need to be done. Speaking of done, I think that's gonna do it for us for today. So until next time, I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

And I'm Karen Gimnig. And this has been Employing Differences.