Perception is reality. It shapes the way that we interpret other’s actions. Our perception becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If I perceive that someone is out to get me, I will naturally apply that filter to all of our interactions. I begin to see everything that individual does in light of my own perceived reality. I will interpret a compliment as a backhanded insult. I will question their gestures as self-serving and question their motives.
Several years ago my relationship with a client rapidly deteriorated. A quirk in our contract, combined with some external factors that invoked the clause, made our agreement nearly impossible to live with. It placed both companies in a precarious position.
Through a series of unfortunate events, our teams failed to address the situation and after months of negotiation the conflict escalated to the top. The client called me with great frustration. She felt we were being unreasonable in our demands and were trying to change the rules mid-stream. I felt as though she was trying to extract every penny from the relationship and was placing us in a situation where we had no chance for success. We both began to interpret every word and action through our own lens.
As you can imagine, the relationship began a rapid, downward spiral.
The great part of the story is that we were actually able to reestablish rapport and rebuild a strong relationship. It wasn’t without months of hard work, but, we did it. Here’s how we worked together.
We bluntly laid out our perceptions.
We began to disclose to each other the way we were interpreting each other’s actions. Initially, this caused quite a stir as each of us was offended by the other’s perception.
Over time, admitting our perceptions proved to be a powerful tool in helping to overcome them. By simply communicating about our interpretations, we were able to have a much more transparent, albeit sometimes heated, exchange. If nothing else, we knew where the other stood.
We stopped emailing and started talking.
We initially found that thoughtful, deliberate emails were the best way to communicate about the situation. We seemed to be able to articulate our thoughts more effectively and with less emotion.
We quickly realized that this approach was, in reality, only escalating the problem. As soon as we started speaking directly we were able to find more common ground. Most importantly, we were able to start understanding each other’s perspectives and how our actions were being interpreted as backing the other into a corner.
We gave each other the benefit of the doubt.
The biggest turning point in our discussions was when we were able to acknowledge the perceptions we had and how they were influencing our interpretation of reality. By forcing ourselves to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, we were able to see each other’s actions for what they really were and began to develop empathy for one another’s perspective.
We both gave on things that were painful.
We finalized an agreement without a full reconciliation. We willed an agreement over the finish line simply so we could move forward. Compromise would be too positive of a word to describe the situation. Neither of us was happy with the result. We both had to give on items that were painful to give on, but we recognized that reaching an agreement and stopping the bleeding was in and of itself the greater good.
We presented a united front.
As we moved forward from the agreement we began to present a united front to our teams. Even if we disagreed with an action, the decisions we made together were fully supported and promoted among the team.
The very act of presenting a united front gave us a common mission. This mission pulled us together and helped us to feel as though we were fighting for each other.
We broke bread together and rebuilt the relationship.
There’s nothing that rebuilds rapport like sitting down face to face, especially over a meal. Getting to know each other personally, hearing what makes the other person tick, and learning what they are passionate about goes a long way towards establishing a working relationship. By spending time on areas other than the negotiation, we were able to build back confidence in the other’s character and mend the relationship.
Sometimes relationships do sour, for a myriad of reasons, and perceptions become reality. Too often we simply give up and don’t do the hard work of mending the relationship. It’s not easy, but it is doable.
What other tactics have you found to be essential to rebuilding rapport?