Saying Goodbye

I lost both of my parents in the past few years, and between those two experiences, I’ve gained a few surprising, and subtle, aspects of healing under such circumstances. In 2017, my wife and I said goodbye to her father. As my dad has been deceased for over a decade, Pat had become a surrogate father to me. His wisdom, business acumen, and sense of humor have been constant friends since my own dad’s passing.

Then in 2018, I said goodbye to my wife–not to death, but to another “d” word, divorce. 

Much has already been said about the grieving process, and to be fair, this site’s raison d’être has much more to do with finding the silver lining than with noticing the clouds. However, sometimes life seems to ask a price of us before we gain something great.

“Wait a minute!” I hear some of you say. “If you’re so good at influence, why did your wife divorce you?” A fair question, but it assumes a lot. For example, I determined that the relationship was in such poor shape and neither of us wanted to correct it. We had, truthfully, grown very far apart, and neither wanted to compromise the gains we’d made. It made sense to split, and I filed for divorce. Before you begin to influence anyone, including yourself, you must determine your outcome. What is it you want as your successful goal? That goal might surprise you. In our case, for example, neither Keli nor I had a goal that resembled “Being together for the rest of our lives”, previous vows notwithstanding. Our goals took us to separate continents and very different paths. The most decent, kind, and respectful thing was to be clear on our individual goals, be as gentle with one another as possible, and split amicably. That we did.

Remember: Others may perceive success very differently than you. In your own life, your own definition of “success” is the most important one. You must be proud of what you’ve done, you must love yourself and find contentment in your outcomes.

This is not much different than having outgrown a job or an employer. I’m often asked by managers advice on how to keep high performers happy and loyal. The company and employee approach the relationship very differently, so it’s not structurally like a marriage. In a marriage or intimate relationship, both parties approach the relationship as (hopefully) equals, each with their own needs, concerns, and yes, baggage. Those needs may be many, but they will have at least a handful in common. After all, they chose one another. There must be something they have in common.

Not necessarily so for a company and employee. The company needs a job done, as well as the outcome of someone doing that job for it. The employee needs income, benefits, a stimulating place to demonstrate and utilize their skills. So they trade, each giving the other something they want in exchange for what they, themselves, want. Most of the successful marital relationships I’ve seen aren’t trade as such. They tend to be equals sharing some mutual needs and goals, and working together to fulfill one another.

Yet there is something these two relationships have in common: Each party needs to have their own needs met in order to maintain that relationship. If a company decides an employee isn’t giving what is needed, they seek to correct that lack–whether through coaching or replacement. Similarly, when in an intimate relationship, one or both partners isn’t having their needs met, they come to expect that same lack. There is a tipping point at which the partner who feels disappointed begins to consider whether a different partner is the answer. Often this leads to an extramarital affair, which is seldom the answer. It needlessly complicates what is by then an already complicated situation. Am I guilty of having done this? Yes. Are you? Statistically speaking, probably. No offense to you, personally.

The most common result of this in an intimate relationship, however, is the dissatisfied person leaving the relationship. If married, this means divorce, almost without exception. Divorce is complicated and messy, and both parties typically pay a heavy price. But they have by then determined that price is lower than continuing on as things had been.

So whether you are a manager or an employee being managed, or a member of a couple in an intimate relationship, there are some basic facts you must embrace.

  1. Your needs matter. The other party in your relationship has a responsibility to respect and do their best to fulfill them. This may take work, either sharing a soul-searching conversation, or getting professional guidance from someone who specializes in such relationships. Though sometimes it’s as simple as relating to the other party exactly what you need that you want them to provide.
  2. The other party’s needs matter. Now, we flip it around and keep this fair. The other party, whether an employee, manager, or spouse, also has needs and they need for you to fulfill them. They have a right to express these needs and you must listen, just as you expected them to listen to you expressing your own needs. You must consider honestly whether you are willing to fulfill your end of the agreement–whether that’s doing the work that’s expected or give your partner something she or he needs in order to feel fulfilled and happy.
  3. It is possible that what you (or the other party) need is simply not going to be met in that relationship. If you are an employee and feel that your work and productivity warrant a raise, you may go to the other party in the relationship, the company, HR representative, or your own manager, and address item 1 above. Your need matters. But you must accept that when you do this, item 2 above also is true. The company may not have the ability to give you the raise, no matter how much it might want to. Just as with a marital partner who decides they are unwilling to help meet your needs in that relationship, you then must decide how much of a “need” that really is. If it’s a “must-have”, cannot-compromise kind of need, you have reached the point where a graceful parting may be necessary. If you’ve called it a “need”, but upon examination, decide it’s closer to a “want”, you might decide to look for an area of compromise. If you don’t find a compromise, however, you are at a decision point: Would you rather have your need met or keep the relationship?

There is no wrong answer, only awareness. Keep in mind that sometimes what seemed like a lost cause can be salvaged if both parties want that. Though if both parties are not on board, a one-sided compromise rarely works long-term. Returning to the “raise” question, maybe the company can’t afford a raise right now, but is willing to give you some other “perk” that doesn’t cost them anything. Human capital perks like telecommuting, working from home a few days a week, or additional vacation days, can be a two-sided compromise that keeps everyone happy. But in that same question, if the company says, “Sorry, but no,” the employee has only the option of a one-sided compromise or of course, saying goodbye.

I would urge managers to consider this as they attempt to prevent attrition of good people. Your employees follow the 80-20 rule like most things: 80% of your productivity comes from 20% of your people. Among that 20%, do what you can to fulfill their job-related needs or they will sever the relationship. If you are on the employee end of that relationship, determine whether you are among that 20%. If not, the negotiation is stacked against you and your needs will not likely sway the company. Find out what you need to do in order to join the 20% and you will find two things:

  1. Your needs will matter more to your employer, increasing the likelihood you will get what you want
  2. You will be more successful than you had been, and that generally translates into more job satisfaction in the first place

Taking the other party for granted is a certain recipe for a failed relationship. So giving it everything you have makes sense. Then, when you have done all you can to ensure its success, assess honestly whether your needs are being met. Then start a plan to change the relationship.

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