Sir Isaac Newton’s third law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is why you can run down the street. Your feet “push” against the pavement creating an equal and opposite force that enables you to move forward. And if your name is Usain Bolt or Allyson Felix – with three gold medals each in the 2012 Summer Olympics, you are certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Both of these athletes are the best in the world – a title that comes with a price that few will ever pay. Months and months and years of training, running, eating right, thinking right, working out, making infinite adjustments to each of these elements in the hopes that during just a few seconds on the track in front of worldwide audience, they would come out on top. And they did. The amazing self discipline that drove these two athletes is one that we can all glean from and hopefully implement in our own lives; if only at a fraction of the cost.
Now the reality is that you and I are not training for the next Olympics, but there is something that we can work on training to the level of an Olympian – and that is our words. Have you ever been in a situation where you were talking with someone about a sensitive topic and right before your eyes they totally react in a negative way and emotionally go into orbit simply over the words that you chose to use? Yeah, me either. Well, maybe once – or twice.
Sometimes and most of the time, I didn’t mean to do this, it just happened. Or was it that I really wasn’t paying attention and just going through the routine in how I deal with everyone? I just happened to run into someone who reacted differently. People are all different and the most interesting and complex of all living things. You literally cannot know and understand everything about everyone, let alone yourself. But you can see the reaction in others and learn from it. And more importantly start developing a tool kit to help you work effectively with others. If the only “tool” you have is a hammer – everyone looks like a nail. If you want to get a different reaction from others, you have to use a different tool.
A few years ago, I was working on a high stakes project that was on a critical time frame and I needed to get the project done ASAP. However, during the final design stage, a colleague in another department decided that a system upgrade was necessary and should be included in my project. Now many times this all comes down to dollars, cents and the most limited commodity of all – time. The idea was a good one, just a few months too late. Now, I was the novice having only been with the company a little over a year, whereas the other guy had been there for over a decade. He had been used to pretty much getting his way when he needed to. And in some fashion, so had I. So, when our equal and opposite emails hit one another, you can only imagine the frustration that ensued. I’m not even joking when I tell that he and I traded emails that went something like this: “thanks for your input, but this is what we’re doing.”
This went on for a couple weeks, all the while, time is ticking and the project needs to get done. I had finally had enough and decided to pay him a little visit in his office. Now, here’s the critical piece: before walking into his office, I had a strategy. I had been doing some homework (reading leadership books and attending training classes on relationship building) and I wanted to try out a couple techniques to see if they’d really work on this guy. I knew that if I wanted to change his mind, I needed to connect with him. You have to connect, before you can pull. I also knew that I’d need to concede something, so he feels as though he’s won something. I needed to have a humble attitude, and given his type A personality, I almost needed to act submissive to his greatness. You have to be careful with this one as it has to be genuine and not sarcastic. And lastly and most importantly, I had to find a way for us to both laugh – preferably at ourselves.
Knowing the tensions were high, I decided to start with a rhetorical question just to make him sit back and think before taking the offensive. My question was this “Bill, do you follow through with a decision even when you know it’s the wrong one?” Before he had the chance to answer, I continued “The answer is no. People make wrong decisions all the time, but if they knew the consequences and could make a better decision before hand they would.” This led into a conversation where we had the opportunity to both admit our faults, agree to a mutually beneficial outcome and quite honestly we realized that we were both very much alike in how we approached things. It was our similarities that made us not like each other, not our differences. This is where we got to laugh at ourselves a little bit. We were so much alike that it was easy to be annoyed by each other.
Once we could appreciate each other for similar strengths, we then moved on to the issue. I needed the decision made quickly and he needed to follow a process that took more time. Through the open discussion, we found a way to meet both our needs. I could phase the construction of my work to accommodate his and he would pay for the differential in project costs. After getting to this win-win arrangement, it was now time to actually build the relationship. This is when I asked just a couple simple personal questions only to find out that his young son was going through some really challenging health issues and would be going in for another surgery soon. This obviously gave me a little more perspective on “why” he might be acting the way he was. From that day on, we had a mutual respect for one another, and I always had a question to ask that let him know that I cared; “how’s your son doing?”
If you want to get along with others, be aware of the actions and reactions that your words may cause in other people. Take responsibility for them and decide to take a new approach to get a different reaction. You’ll be glad you did.