Does it ever feel like you are a second or third option when you are talking with other people?
I had an experience last week in which I felt both rejected and reflective at the same time. What I encountered from the other person was both unintentional and purposeful at the same time. These mixed feelings put me in a state of self-reflection that really made me stop dead in my tracks and think, I hope I never leave people feeling the way I am feeling right now.
Spoiler Alert: There is a short relationship quiz at the end of this post if you like that sort of thing!
Here is the story
I walked into a meeting room a bit early for the meeting and made eye contact with Mr. X (obvious name change insertion) who walked over to me with his hand extended. I gave his hand a firm shake, maintaining eye contact and leaning in a little, just like my dad taught me. So far so good. We settled into our chairs and he asked me a socially acceptable personal question, again, so far so good.
Then it happened. That devastating and traumatizing event occurred at the hand of Mr X, the hand I just had shaken about 3 seconds ago, reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and grabbed his cell phone.
And while I was trying to explain to him “how I was doing that day," with his non-shaking hand he started opening apps on his phone. Now check this out: He was nodding his head like he was listening to me while at the same time making eye contact only with his phone.
What's a Leader To Do?
Now I know that relationships can be tricky. Please hear me, I am not asking to be the center of anyone's universe other than my own, but am I off base here? I felt completely isolated and alone in a conversation with a guy I really enjoy being with.
If I were to stop and ask him if his intention in that moment was to cause me harm, or ill-will, or even to feel like a puppy at a shelter who just can’t get picked to go home with a family, I know he would have told me I was crazy and that I was completely misreading what happened.
I even went and asked a really good friend and an executive coach his opinion of what happened to me because I was thinking, how could such a cool guy unintentionally reject me like that on purpose?
So I think what is going on here is not only indicative of the times we live in but the balance we as leaders need to be aware of.
Look, I don’t for one minute think that Mr. X intentionally meant to make me feel like a second or third option in his life at that moment. I know he didn’t mean it. I know if I made him aware of it in the moment he would say to me, “sorry man, I had this one thing I needed to….” and he would have put his phone back in his pocket. But it isn’t his intention that caused my feeling of rejection. It might have been unintentional but he did what he did on purpose.
It was the impact that his purposeful behavior had on me that was so uncomfortable. He prioritized that “one thing,” whatever it was, over me in the moment. And BAM the feeling of rejection came over me like when I didn’t get picked to play on the all-star team in little league.
Communities and teams are built on the backs of interpersonal relationships. The stronger these relationships are between people, the better the team develops trusts and the better the performance.
While I am sure you have all had experiences like I did with Mr X, certainly one interaction does not define a relationship. I think the bigger point here is good working relationships need to have components like empathy and mutual satisfaction along with a good balance between the tasks that need doing.
As I thought about these components and a few others, I thought of three different types of relationships that I have observed in organizations. There is the Rapport Builder, the Alliance Crafter, and the Social Dissenter.
Using the descriptions below, think about a member of your team and the types of relationships they seem to have. Then click the button at the bottom of this post and take our little 5 question quiz with that person in mind and see which of the three relational types your team member falls into. It is fun, I know we had some fun putting it together. I hope you enjoy it and that it might give you some language to have development discussions with different people on your team. Here is a thought, why not take the quiz yourself, and have the person you are thinking about take it and see if you come up with the same conclusion?
3 Relational Types
Rapport Builder - People are great and a priority. Relationships tend to have three stellar attributes. First is that rapport builders have a way to connect emotionally so that there is a full mutual attention. They can read the emotion of the other person and can mirror that emotion causing the other person to feel calm and safe. Second, after you leave the rapport builder you have a genuinely good feeling about what just happened. Finally, when you are with a rapport builder you feel like the relationship is headed somewhere. There is a huge sense of satisfaction and accomplishment even with small talk. These folks add life and energy to a room.
Alliance Crafter - There are times when relationships take priority and there are times when the job just needs doing. For these folks, the balance can be a bit hard to find. They know and understand the importance of relationships but it seems to be for the purpose of the task getting done rather than for the sake of the relationship. These people do not have a hard time building networks and see the value in having relationships in a community, but the purpose usually is not for meeting and enjoying others as much as it is accomplishing a goal. Once the goal is complete they often struggle with what to do with the relationship
Social Dissenter - A quote I heard recently said, "Don't make people a priority who only make you an option". These social dissenters are folks who just can’t seem to find the value that other people or relationships bring. It is not that they are shy, or even introverted. Social dissenters go beyond this and just don’t seem to care for, or about, anyone other than themselves. There is little to no satisfaction from being in a relationship with social dissenters. They are task masters and policy hounds. Not task or policy for the sake of others or relationships but tasks and policy for the sake of the rule. These folks suck energy from a room and others usually can’t wait until an interaction is over.