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I’m Gonna Need You to Go Ahead and Come In Tomorrow

The theme of Michael Bungay Stanier’s new book, How to Work with (Almost) Anyone is building what he calls the Best Possible Relationship (BPR), be that with a boss, subordinate, colleague, or client. “Most working relationships aren’t disastrous,” he writes, “but every working relationship has its share of hurts and misunderstandings and frustrations.” Surely we agree that Shirley from sales is, well… a lot.

So, as you begin 2024 in earnest, wide-eyed and optimistic, below are some suggestions on interpersonal development from the guy known as MBS (the author, not the crown prince who orders the dismantling of journalists by bone saw):

  • Work relationships should be safe (no fear of being humiliated), vital (everyone knows the game and why they’re playing), and repairable (the commitment and capacity to fix damage and carry on).
  • Invite colleagues into meaningful conversations. It’s okay to say you think the “working relationship that’s gone a little stale, one you’d like to reset.” If you think it’s stuck or broken, they’ll likely agree.
  • Inform them that the goal is to find your way back – together – to a time when it was a more successful partnership. Say that you’re going to prepare for the exchange and encourage them to do the same.
  • Rip off the band-aid and deal with it. “If all you do is talk about the good, you’ll have neither wisdom nor resilience during the tough times.” This also sets a positive precedent to deal with any future negatives that may arise.
  • Honor so-called social contracting, meaning there’s a level playing field built for mutual exchange. Both participants should want to ask & answer questions because “without both give and take, it’s not a contract.”
  • When overwhelmed by a situation, break it into four buckets: data (incontrovertible truths); judgments (opinions bent to your worldview); feelings (entwined with judgments, forming “an unholy cocktail of distorted understanding”); and wants (based on balancing your respective strengths and blind spots).
  • Like teenage acne, painful afflictions can lie just below the surface. When a relationship feels off, say so. “Sometimes there’s a hurt to be healed, a minor transgression to be acknowledged and worked through.”
  • It may make sense to reset and begin anew. Answer this keystone question: “What do we need to know about each other so that we can reforge a BPR together.” The author admonishes us to plant the seeds of repair and recovery.

Does it work with everyone? Nope, hence the book’s title. It takes two to tango (and tangle). Stanier admits, “Sure, some will be manipulative, entitled, self-obsessed, and utterly indifferent” to your efforts. But those people live on the fringes. Most of us want BPRs, so go get ’em, tiger.

If you have anything to say about this – or book recommendations – kindly post below (rather than emailing me) to spark conversation. Thank you!

6 comments for “I’m Gonna Need You to Go Ahead and Come In Tomorrow

  1. Hi Chris,
    Interesting book. I regularly find myself in conversations with people about work relationship problems. This includes two of my adult children who are in managerial positions and find much of their time is consumed with relationship tensions. The idea of BPR suggests we don’t need to be besties but just get along a little better. A technique I’ve used in the past with work relationships is to ask the other person to on a one to ten scale, pick a number that describes where we are in our relationship. The key part is not the number they state, be it two or five or six, but the next question. “What can we do to move the number up by one value?” I’ve found that this usually creates an opening for a meaningful conversation to get at some of the real issues.
    Cheers and Happy New Year!

    • Outstanding commentary, Mark. I love the way the relatively easy first question tees up the far more important one. Thank you for sharing and Happy New Year as well!

  2. Chris, this hit my inbox right as I was having a discussion with a colleague about how to manage a difficult situation with someone who’s been problematic as of late. Your synopsis gave us a solid baseline and reminded us that not everyone is ‘impossible’. Thanks, bro!

    • Ed, a lot of what’s in my post is an attempt to motivate myself to have an awkward conversation with a key colleague. The relationship’s been stale for a while and I will – will! – address it this week. Unless I chicken out. 🙂

    • Love to hear it, Steve! It’s quite practical with concrete recommendations. May you use ’em in good health in 2024!

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