Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.
Dear Crucial Skills,
You talk a lot about “Making It Safe” by helping people know you respect them. What if you don’t? My manager is manipulative and deceitful, and I despise her. So, how do you respect people you don’t respect?
Should I Fake It?
Dear Fake It,
Should you fake it? No. Dialogue is about “the free flow of meaning.” This includes your genuine feelings, perceptions, and experiences. No faking allowed. Fortunately, when this seems impossible, help is available.
Take a deep breath because what I’m about to say may cause you to hyperventilate.
SOMETIMES WE RESENT MOST THE THINGS WE RESEMBLE MOST. That’s right, sometimes we feel an extra dose of loathing for those who do things that we ourselves also do–but haven’t quite owned up to. You’ve probably felt this before when you’ve found yourself having an inexplicably strong negative emotional reaction to another person almost from the outset of meeting them.
Let’s say that this person is constantly drawing attention to herself. And where it would usually just make you smirk, for some reason in this person it drives you bonkers. You feel an extra helping of revulsion and impatience when this person does what she does.
Often, resentment is evidence that somehow you see yourself this same way–and just haven’t owned up to it.
How does all this apply to your boss? Put delicately, if your boss’s manipulative and deceitful behavior is causing you an overwhelming and insurmountable amount of disgust, it may be a sign that in some area of your life you are manipulative and deceitful and haven’t wanted to deal with it. When you deal with this, something interesting will happen. Your feelings toward your boss will soften. They won’t go away. You will still be bothered by her behavior. But you won’t be consumed with it because now you will see her as a person kind of like you. At this point, you’re only seeing her as different from yourself to protect yourself–so that you heap additional negative feelings on her to distract you from something you haven’t addressed in yourself.
Let me share a quick example of how this works. I learned this idea in part from a woman who was intensely disgusted with a male colleague who would stare at her in suggestive ways. After this had gone on for months, she finally decided to have the crucial conversation with him. Unfortunately, she was so incensed at him that she knew there was no way this conversation could go well. She spent some time examining her feelings toward him and found herself curious at why they were so intense.
So she asked herself an interesting question. “How am I just like him?” Almost immediately she was confronted with a very uncomfortable awakening. She had developed a persistent habit herself of checking people out. She was also fairly free with her close friends at commenting in bawdy terms on what she noticed in these scamming moments. When she owned up to her own practices, and realized in a pretty significant way she resembled her colleague, her feelings toward him softened. While she still wanted his behavior to stop, she felt more civil toward him, and, therefore, more capable of communicating a modicum of respect in the conversation.
If you can get past this, then consider whether you can approach your boss at least thinking about respect. We call this “potential respect.” Just let the person know that you don’t want things to feel the way they do now and that you really want to have a respectful and enjoyable relationship. That very desire can communicate a regard for the person that allows you to open up the conversation.
You might say to your boss, “Susan, I’m sure you’ve felt less than supported by me at times in the past. I think our relationship isn’t as comfortable and effective as either of us wants it to be. I really want to be one-hundred percent supportive of you and feel whole-hearted in how I work for you. And I don’t right now. I wonder if I could talk to you about some concerns I have. I believe if we could discuss and resolve this it could help me to give one-hundred percent the way I’d like to–and help me to feel better about you as well. Would that be okay?”
Do you see it? Any attempt to be both honest and respectful is sure to come out better than one that is neither. If you can come to see how you resemble your boss, you will resent her a little less. And if you resent her a little less, you may be able to communicate a desire to respect her in a way that makes her feel safe. From there, you can have a much better crucial conversation about what’s getting in the way.