Updated: Sep 11, 2019
“Let me ask the old ball and chain!” Jane and her husband have a great relationship. However, since completing some coaching, Jane’s changed her perspective on the power of words to influence our way of thinking. Her husband Tom is a great guy but is always making jokes about the ‘suffering of marriage’ and the ‘ball and chain’ that is a spouse. Jane has also communicated like this. It helps her fit in and, previously she considered it only a bit of harmless teasing. Deep down she dislikes the animosity and negativity the jokes belie and knows it has been affecting how she looks at herself and her relationship with Tom.
In the story above, our heroine needs a reset and in this article I’d like to explain what the reset is, why you need it and how to employ it to improve your life. You see, we often are able to identify an issue, know what we need to change but are not skilled or aware (or brave enough) of the method with which we can make the change with a minimum of damage or miscommunication.
A reset is needed when you have been tolerating a bad behavior, or simply a behavior you want to change in yourself or another person. For our article, I’d like to focus on managing resets in the context of domestic relationships but the concept has a parallel in professional management. In that sphere, a manager needs to carry out a reset when they have been ignoring a piece of employee behavior that now needs to be addressed or should have been managed all along.
In the work example, it could be that people have a habit of showing up late to meetings. In order to improve the situation the manager cannot simply declare the previously ignored standard now in force and come down on staff. A sudden change of expectation is shocking and can be scary to employees. Employees need a certain level of safety and trust in their manager and that can be broken and engagement lost when a boss ‘pulls the rug out’ from under the staff. They’re left guessing what version of the boss will show up that day and as a result cannot calibrate their behavior to be most productive.
Switching expectations on a dime, and cowering behind policy or blaming higher leadership is not acceptable, but neither is running meetings that do not start or end on time. No, this situation requires a reset.
Similarly for our domestic example, Jane needs to find a way to communicate the need for change and in the process be fair to those affected, because, to this point, the behavior has been tolerated and therefore condoned. To the family and spouse, it can seem that for some strange reason our hero has woken up on the wrong side of the bed and decided this. The family could reasonably think that just as easily, the enforcement of the new change could disappear as strangely as it appeared. “Perhaps let’s wait and see if the change is real before we really get on board.” Our hero needs to perform a reset.
So now that we know what a reset is and why you need it, I’d like to give you a few guideposts so that you can employ the reset for positive change.
First, and most imperative, when resetting, you first need to clarify your message, that is, plan it out. Focus on the behavior, not the person or group’s intent. What is the problem? What has been happening and how did we get to this point? What is the consequence of the current path? What’s the benefit of the new change (this is critical, you need to find a reason for people to buy in)? What is your role in perpetuating the problem? How do you expect you will need to change going forward? What changes do you need from others? What does success look like? Can you plan a recognition or follow up to ensure long term change sticks? What accountability or consequence is attached to not changing?
Second, you need to find the right setting for the communication. This will vary. When planning you need to think about how much time you’ll need, the impact of interruptions, other priority communication, etc. Scheduling time for a one on one with her partner and letting him know that there is something she’d like to discuss could be as complicated as we need to get. This “appointment” helps the spouse know something important is on the partner’s mind and he can be prepared to be really listening and present vs. being ambushed by a conversation he was not expecting or ready for. Similarly at work, our manager can add an agenda item that’s non-accusatory like “meeting protocol review”.
Third, you need to own your part of the problem. As growing individuals, we need to ‘own it’ and give ourselves a break if we recognize we’ve been shying away or avoiding a problem we now need to or want to face. Our leader at work could have been new and unsure of office norms. Perhaps he or she simply did not have the courage previously to address the problem. While I do not recommend people disclose their lack of management courage to employees, I do recommend approaching the group with authenticity and clarity of what your role has been in the problem.
Getting back to Jane, instead of talking to Tom about the negative reference to marriage when he spoke of it in the moment, first she planned what she was going to say and a best time to communicate (while both are not distracted, feeling connected and together). She recognized that she’s been a part of the problem and that there is no way Tom could know how she’s feeling (separating behavior from Tom’s intent). Her outcome for the conversation is only to let Tom know how she feels about the communication and then expects, that Tom, with the new awareness will make the change she hopes for. Regardless of what happens, Jane plans a communication of thanks for Tom, for listening to her and potentially for making the change. Jane’s tone and style will be calm and compassionate vs. argumentative or accusatory and emphasize the positive parts of their relationship too.
Ignoring a problem can create stress and distraction for us all. Many struggle to rationalize how to bring up a problem that has been tolerated long term. A reset is the best way to change and reinforce expectations while respecting the positive intent of the individuals involved. What problems have you been pushing to the bottom of your priority list? What’s conversations are you pushing off till after your vacation? See the signs of the need for a reset in your day to day and use the strategies described here to move forward!
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