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What Married Couples Can Teach You About Leading A Team At Work

In our first book, The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing the Competitive Advantage of Your Team, we dive deep into workplace conflict. We discuss the many different ways that conflict arises at work—passive aggressive emails, projects that keep stalling, angry outbursts in the conference room, sullen coworkers, disinterest, apathy, people quitting—and how to turn unproductive conflict into a productive, exciting conversations.

We believe that conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Often, when conflict arises, it’s an opportunity to get curious, repair systems that aren’t working, and make things so much better. When managed the right way, conflict can lead to creative (and often, profitable) breakthroughs!

We’ve worked with businesses and workplace teams for twenty years. What you might not know is that we also work with couples.

We’ve found that there are a lot of similarities between a business-team and a couple-team. At work, and at home, many of the same challenges arise—for instance, not feeling understood (or not listening), making assumptions without having all the facts, trying to “fix” things too quickly and rushing into a solution that’s not ideal, as just a few examples.

By improving your communication skills in the workplace, you’re gaining tools that you can use at home with your partner, kids, your parents and other family members, too. And vice versa. When you strengthen your skills in one area of life, it influences other parts too.

Here are three relationship tools that we use with clients in long-term romantic relationships—tools that can absolutely be applied in the workplace, too.

Don’t Try to Change Them

Most of us create suffering in key relationships by trying change or control the other person (or people). You may relate to this best in your own couple relationship.

- If she didn’t take so long getting ready we’d get there on time.

- I wish he’d put down the paper while we are eating breakfast.

- I’m sure I can train him to dress more stylish.

Sure, these examples are little things, but in marriage, it’s the little things that wind up eventually being the big things. The problem is you keep thinking that with enough persuasion, coaxing or criticism, you can change your partner.

The same thing happens on teams. People have different personality styles. Some people are great at creating a plan, following the plan, and getting things done on time. For others, that level of planning is constricting. They hate having a detailed plan and work best with last-minute deadlines.

Believe or not, one style is not better than the other.

Both personality types have something to offer the team. The key is not trying to make everyone fit into the same structure, but to understand, appreciate and use the differences.

This is why during a leadership team offsite we offer a styles assessment like those of Myers Briggs or Social Styles, so that you can better understand your preferences and that of your teammates. Not to change you or them but to work better together!

Connection Before Correction

We are each different. It’s natural and healthy to have likes and dislikes about what your teammates are doing. As you know, we’re big believers in healthy feedback.

Two things we’ve learned from years of working with couples and teams:

1. Listen and reflect back what you’re hearing

2. Check out your story

Listen and Reflect Back What You Hear

We are not big believers in formulas for delivering feedback like the “sandwich method” which is saying two positives with a negative in the middle. Primarily because it often doesn’t feel or isn’t sincere, and comes off as a formula.

We’ve found that in working with couples, what’s more important than saying something nice before giving negative feedback (or explaining why they are wrong and you have a better way to do things) is to take the time to really listen, understand, and reflect back what you hear them saying.

This is powerful because it demonstrates that you care about this person and what they’re saying.

The same holds true at work. Take the time to really listen, to understand, and reflect back your teammate’s viewpoint or concern.

You build a connection every time you reflect back what you hear. The other person will likely be more open to your perspective.

Check Out Your Story

The second point here is equally important. Your story is just that—your story—not fact, not an expert’s truth, but a story.

Couples make assumptions about each other all the time due to their years of being together. This leads you to the erroneous conclusion that you know what the person is thinking, feeling and will do next. However, no matter how well you know each other, when you assume, you aren’t in a relationship with the other person, but with your own imagination, your own story!

The same thing happens at work. You make assumptions and believe those assumptions are right.

In both cases, rather than assume, we suggest you start with providing the observable data —what you saw and heard that led to your conclusion, your story. Then ask if the other person agrees or disagrees with your observation.

When you approach a situation like this, you are being relational. You are checking out your story, while building a bridge by taking time to make a connection. (This technique works equally well at home, too.)

If your teammate believes you are actually interested in them, not just making assumptions or wanting to change or correct their point of view, they’ll be much more likely to listen and consider your feedback.

Own When You’re Wrong

One of the greatest rebuilders of trust in a marriage is when one person says, “I was wrong and I’m sorry.” The same is true at work.

There are two key reasons why this is important.

First, you are wrong sometimes, and it’s healthy to be humble rather than fight to be right. When you own your mistake, you’re building vulnerability muscles, which is a key ingredient for being real and honest in a relationship.

Secondly, when you are willing to own your mistakes and not just fight to be right, teammates are much more likely to own their mistakes. People relax and become more honest themselves, and as a result, mistakes get handled much faster and creatively.

Think of how much easier and faster work would go if people weren’t mired in politics or trying to look good. When people relax and are themselves, they’re able to take a risk, make a mistake, and come forward and talk about it!

In couples, one of the biggest mistakes people make is using white lies to cover up what they really feel and believe. This undermines trust because eventually the truth comes out or your partner can sense you’re not being honest. By then those little white lies become big divides and the blame game starts, making it difficult to recover.

When your partner knows you’re willing to be human and that you value them, goodwill grows, strengthening the relationship. This makes your relationship more resilient tough stuff comes up.

The same is true at work.

Your teammate should not be your competition. They should be your ally and the person you know you can go to when you make mistake, did something wrong, or just simply don’t have an answer.

These lessons save marriages and make for healthy, lasting relationships both at home and at work.

Remember the quality of your relationships should matter as much as your business results.

Frankly, we believe and have seen time and time again that great relationships will get you great sustainable results—so make your relationships at work and at home matter!

Now our second book is coming out on just couples! Click the link to pre-order The Beauty of Conflict for Couples: Igniting Passion, Intimacy, and Connection in Your Relationship

Here’s to creating great relationships both at work and at home,

CrisMarie and Susan


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Pre-order their new book The Beauty of Conflict for Couples: Igniting Passion, Intimacy, and Connection in Your Relationship by clicking here.

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