Volume 3, Number 32 -- August 31, 2006

As I See It: Productivity and Relationship

Published: August 31, 2006

by Victor Rozek

It has become an axiom of American life that the more successful you are in business, the less likely you are to have a successful relationship. "The job" is often cited as the villain in relationship failures but, more accurately, it is the single-minded dedication to the job that leaves little time for the demands of partnership. But if jobs can destroy relationships, then the loss of a relationship can also effect a person's ability to perform on the job. People in the throes of dissolution are usually pained, distracted, and performing at less than optimal levels. Simply stated, productivity suffers when relationships fail.

Workplace relationships can be particularly messy, especially when managers and subordinates get involved. If things sour, there is apt to be triangulation when the aggrieved party seeks solace from fellow employees by savaging the reputation of the former partner. There will be the inevitable rumors and emails, and time wasted pondering the desire to escape or concocting Orwellian plans for revenge. And, if a complaint is lodged, you can look forward to the unsympathetic, bottom-line involvement of Human Resources. Such distractions sap a lot of productive energy. The actual numbers would be difficult if not impossible to discern, but given the desperation and frequency with which people jump from one relationship to another, the loss of productivity due to loss of relationship must be substantial.

It is also largely unnecessary.

More often than not, relationships fail not for lack of love, but for lack of skill. Unlike computers, partners come without user manuals or instructions for optimal performance. It's all guess work and most folks learn about the complexities of relationship by watching movies and observing their parents. Enough said. Imagine buying a computer capable of rage and neediness, affection and malice, rational and irrational behavior, and never being quite sure what you'll get when you flip the "on" switch. Without all-weather navigational skills, relationships can seem just as frustrating, unpredictable, and mysterious.

The great irony is that most people have all of the skills it takes to have successful relationships, but they don't use them at home. They save them for work. But having a skill at work does not guarantee it will be available at home. Skills are not binary. It's not a matter of having or not having a particular skill. Skills, as well as behaviors, are contextual. That is, not every skill we possess is available to us in every context. Someone who is a clear and articulate communicator at work, for example, may become tongue-tied when talking about his feelings, or catatonic if asked to speak in public in front of a large audience. Someone else may be accustomed to being a leader in the workplace, but may find himself or herself unaccountably deferring to the partner at home. Or, an otherwise confident and capable employee may feel tentative and clumsy in social situations.

Nor is every skill even useful in every context. Most IT professionals are great problem solvers at work, but as many a man can attest, when his partner is troubled she wants him to listen and will resent any attempt to bypass the listening process by offering unsolicited advice. Likewise, in times of disagreement, yelling at your spouse may be tolerated at home, but yelling at your boss may get you fired.

So, whether at work or at home, the trick is not only to have the right skills but to know when to use them and to have them available when they are needed. Fortunately, the skills necessary to become a competent IT professional are some of the same skills required to grow a good relationship, and the way to have them available on demand, is to do what is known as a "Skills Transfer."

A Skills Transfer is a simple process that can be done anywhere and requires only a bit of time and a little privacy. First, find a place where you can get quiet. As Blaise Pascal said: "The sole cause of all human misery is the inability of people to sit quietly in their rooms." Rid your mind of unnecessary distraction then pick two spots on the floor. The first will represent a situation in which you do not currently exhibit, but want, some absent skill; the second symbolizes a context in which you already practice that skill. Note that a Skills Transfer can work from any context to any other. For example, there may be qualities outside of work that you may wish to bring into the workplace, like the tolerance you exhibit with your children. But for the purpose of this exercise, let's explore the possibility of improving productivity by improving relationships.

There are many exemplary qualities that reside within most IT professionals. Among them, dedication, patience, persistence, curiosity, problem-solving ability, collaboration, competence, creativity and--particularly for managers and team leaders--the ability to give and receive feedback and to express appreciation and encouragement.

As an example of a Skills Transfer, let's pick patience. It's a required skill at work, often forcing us to sublimate our tendency toward impatience until we get home. There, it's easy to be impatient with our partner, particularly if our relationship spans any length of time, because everything seems familiar and predictable. You can almost complete each other's sentences and are versed in each other's flaws. So when we return home, tired and spent, it's easy to behave as if we have exhausted our daily allotment of patience at work.

Stand in the first spot, close your eyes if that's helpful, and put yourself in a situation where you would like to have more patience. Think of a specific interaction and the problems it caused when you didn't exhibit patience; the hurt, the anger, the frustration, the disconnection. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? Experience all of it, notice your bodily sensations, any tension or weariness. Notice any self-talk or judgments you have about yourself and your partner in this situation. Experience it fully, and when you're done, shake it off and move into the other spot on the floor.

Here, experience those events at work where you do exhibit patience. Perhaps it's with a new employee you have been asked to mentor; perhaps it's the time you take going over computer code line by line looking for an illusive bug; perhaps it's the deference you show users whose questions can be trying and whose demands can be unreasonable; perhaps it's the extra time you take to do things right the first time. Experience how differently you feel in these situations; gracious, respectful, in control, at ease with yourself and others. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What are your judgments about yourself? Experience all of that, then take it back to the original spot on the floor and relive the first experience.

It should feel quite different, and as you replay the event, you should experience a far greater range of positive outcomes. You now have the knowledge that patience (or any other skill you have at work) is always available to you, in any context. It is transferable, like a concert ticket, or better yet, an inheritance you give yourself.

Our work life and our home life exert a constant impact on each other. They are interdependent and, for better or worse, the two worlds will always encroach and overlap since we carry them with us. Energetically, we bring our work life home and our home life to work. People who are unhappy at work bring their misery home and infect the household. People who are unhappy at home bring their discontent to work where their productivity and their coworkers suffer.

To the degree that productivity is a byproduct of simply being happy (that is, being less distracted, less angry, less anxious, and so on), we can use the skills and resources available to us in one setting to solve problems we experience in the other.

John Stossel reportedly said: "Happiness comes when we test our skills toward some meaningful purpose." Well, what could be more meaningful than our relationships and our work?

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
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