Tuesday, June 16, 2015

FROST AND FIRE: RELATIONSHIPS THAT WORK

FROST AND FIRE: RELATIONSHIPS THAT WORK

Workplace relationships often swing between frost and fire. Some days your boss may be on fire. He ignites fire, not so much within the hearts of his followers, but behind them.  He drives his people on the tenterhooks of task:  very much like a ring master drives wild animals in a circus into robotic submission. When pushed in this manner, day after day, the relationship between boss and subordinate turns frosty. Finally, when people leave an organization, they don’t leave a building, they leave an icy relationship with their bosses.

A theory of organization behaviour divides behaviour of leaders into two poles: task and relationships. A boss can be largely task focussed or relationship focussed depending on his operating style. However, when building enduring relationships itself becomes the task, bosses are often found wanting. Even a ‘good morning’ sounds like ‘good MOURNING’ as the boss greets the subordinate. The face of the boss droops like Maggi’s noodles as he proceeds to do a post-mortem of the subordinate's work.  When relationships at work get frozen in such defensive behaviour, the future of work is governed by past habits and predictable pattern. You sit in most corporate meetings only to realize that ninety nine percent of the conversations are not about the future, but about the past.
Relating is like melting of ice. Frozen ice isn’t about the future. Frozen ice is about the past. Think of stagnant water that is frosted in the form of ice cubes. It may remind you of freezing of life energy in the mould of relationships. Relating is like free and fresh flowing water. Relationships are like hardening of water into stale ice cubes. Relationships preserve the past. Relating brings you to the present. You may find yourself relating to the world as a parent, spouse, employee, boss, manager, guru, gangster, labour, lover –all of these are conditioning of the past. They are roles that you have settled into from patterns repeated in the past. The structures of static relationships must be broken by dynamic relating. Relating enlivens the present. Now, think of a cube of ice melting in a glass of water. The ice melts away leaving no trace of its form. The only trace is the soothing of the water into a refreshingly cool drink. For many of us at work and at home, ice has entered our hearts. Our relationships have turned frosty. Let’s transform relationships into the art and practice of relating. Let’s melt a little.

On a visit to the Silicon Valley I was chatting with one of the top ten wealth creators of India during the dot com revolution. The man was a multi-billionaire. He was speaking rather earnestly about his relationships while his glass of beverage kept clinking with rolling ice cubes. Our billionaire was saying, “I am like a juggler at home and work: juggling finance, family, friends, customers and cash. All these different aspects of my life are like juggling balls. All the balls are made of rubber except one. The one ball that is made of crystal in the ball of relationships. If you drop the rubber balls, they will bounce back. However, if you ever drop the ball of crystal, your relationship crashes for ever.” Dropping the last cube on his drink from the ice box: he repeated again ‘never drop that crystal ball.’ Think of a relationship as a crystal ball and relating as the dynamic movement of the ball. When the movement of relating stops, the relationship crashes or just turns frosty. When is it that you last held the hand of your father or told your domestic help that she deserves a raise for doing her job well?

How do you really relate to a co-worker or a colleague? You cannot relate when you are frozen in your own autobiography. A stuck relationship is like two hardened ice blocks trying to merge with each other. They will collide and knock each other down to pieces. But when the rigid boundaries around the ice blocks begin to melt (sometimes a cup of coffee or a little bit of wine may help!) relating starts. Ice cannot merge with ice but molten ice can merge with molten ice.

In the workplace we often come into collision course based on role boundaries. One has to remember that we just ‘play’ a role. We are not the role. When there is a role conflict we have to learn to play slightly differently. The boss gets into the subordinates' shoes and begins to play the subordinate’s part for a while. He immediately realizes what the subordinate goes through when he gets a confused instruction or an unjustified tongue lashing. Only when we are in the play mode can we switch roles with effortless ease. True relationships take shape when there is no ‘me’. When there is no ‘me’, there is no ‘other’. When there is no centre, there is no circumference. In this, me and the other melts into the expanding circle of relating. Can we all just melt a little?

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