Is there someone at work you don’t get along with and yet need to influence? And, yes, you tend to avoid them because you just don’t see eye to eye? It could be a peer, a boss, a direct report. Here’s the best advice I have seen recently on a TED talk by Elisabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute.
Her advice is simple, “Take The Other To Lunch”. Here are 5 Tips to start to turn the corner on the difficult relationship.
1. Clarify Your Objective. What’s your goal? The goal here is to simply build a more trusting relationship with the other person. Once the mutual trust is established, it is more possible to work on the areas where you want to influence the person. Believe it or not, this is the hardest part. It involves us being really honest with ourselves about our true intent and then following through on it. Your objective at the outset is simply to be curious about the other person and to build a trusting relationship.
2. What’s the best way to approach them? The bad news is that they are probably not oblivious to the fact that you are not on great terms. So just be honest. Acknowledge the fact that you realize the relationship is not off to the best start and state your intent to see if you can get a fresh start. This takes courage on your part. You will be surprised how barriers in the other person can come down when you acknowledge a sincere desire to get to know them. If you have made any mistakes in the past in the relationship, coming clean on these is critical. So, go ahead and ask them to lunch.
3. What If They Say No? They may be a bit suspicious. After all, everyone wants to have lunch with friends. And it may be just the excuse you may be looking for to retreat back to your office cave to nurse the ego. But you can prevail. Persist. Ask if there is a better time to connect, perhaps for coffee.
4. What Do We Talk About? Understandably when we perceive that we have nothing in common with the other person, we are anxious to spend an hour with them. One of my most miserable mentoring experiences was when I was invited to a 1 on 1 mentoring lunch with my boss’s boss early in my career. We went to a noisy restaurant (thankfully I thought at the time because we certainly didn’t have much to say to each other). But now I know better! You need to take 100% accountability yourself, to be curious about the other person. Ask questions about their background, their interests, what’s made them successful. You don’t need to get into your agenda or convince them you’re right. Your goal is to simply build a more trusting relationship with the other. See them as people instead of “the other.” Take the time to share yourself, your background, what’s important to you. Start to look for similarities rather than differences. If there has been lack of trust in the past, it is very powerful to acknowledge that. It clears the air. Own up to what you did to cause lack of trust to happen and your intent to fix that. They may choose to own up as well, but don’t go in expecting them to. The key here your having the courage and power to take 100% accountability.
5. Be Persistent. As Elisabeth Lesser says, this is not an easy process and it takes time, but it does work, and it takes patience. You may experience set backs. Stay true to your intent. If your intent is sincere (i.e. build trust), then you are bound to get results.
The above is not rocket science but how often do we practice it? Often we let our emotional feelings about “the other” (and the beliefs that we are right and they are wrong) get in the way of our goals and progress. Elisabeth Lesser ends by quoting one of my favorite quotes from the Sufi poet Rumi “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field, I’ll meet you there.” Here is wishing you great success in this field.
So pick one person you will take to the lunch experiment and do comment on how this worked for you.
Here’s Elizabeth Lesser’s TedTalk.