The Rope Trick: Stop Getting Let Down and Start Building Up Great Relationships at Work and Home
It’s a three-headed monster. It’s a work-killer, relationship-killer and buzz-killer. The “it” is the awful letdown that occurs when you think you can depend on someone and they leave you hanging.
It happens at work, in volunteering and at home. A business partner denies they were going to do something. Or your spouse said they’d get home early so you could work late and then they don’t. Or your teenager assures you they will help their little brother with homework...but it never happens.
In each case you get left with more work and more stress – and rotten feelings towards those you need and love. So much of this is avoidable.
In my new video below, I share a simple technique that works like magic. I have used it with – and taught it to – clients; I practice it with my wife; and I find it most valuable with my kids. They don’t always like it, because I pin them down and I invite them to be responsible adults – and that’s not always easy.
Take a look and share your comments or questions about what I call “the rope trick.”
To summarize, here are the three key steps in preventing the big let down:
1. Make sure you have an agreement. Duh! You say. But so often we think we have an agreement when we don’t. We think that we are holding one end of a rope and someone else is holding the other, but they’re really not. So, when a person says, “I’ll try,” or “Sure, I think that’ll work,” those should be alarm bells that they really haven’t picked up the other end of the rope or sure aren’t holding it tightly.
2. Clarify the agreement. Make sure there isn’t a lot of slack or knots in the rope. If you want to depend on someone be clear about what, when, where, etc., you are depending on them for. So, if you want something from a staff person by Monday, don’t ask for it or let them tell you they’ll have it “next week.” That’s just too much slack in the rope. As I describe in the video, the best way to get out the knots and slack in agreements is to ask – without being patronizing – for them to tell you what they have agreed to – which you might well precede by saying exactly what you have agreed to! These first two points have a technical quality, but they work best in this context:
3. Whiff ‘em. Or W.I.I.F.M, which stands for “what’s in it for me?” Most of us, most of the time, will hold on to our end of the rope because we’ve all been taught to keep our promises. And the two points above are about elevating agreements to promises. But nobody – but saints and madmen – continues to enter into deals where they get nothing out of it. So, keep in mind and keep explaining the Why of it all. “Why should I make this promise, Dad?” Or answer the implicit question from your spouse, “Why should I get home early and put your work in front of mine?” Here’s where you have to lead, by sharing a vision with the other person: of a great partnership of trust, a noble and dependable child, a worker whose trustworthiness on their promises will make them an employee with a great future.
Even with these three moves, there will still be occasional breakdowns. But promises, clarity and WIIFM will carry you a long way and help you lead with your best self.
So, whaddya think about that?
Dan Mulhern is an expert on leadership and organizational development. He currently teaches courses in business and law at UC Berkeley. Mulhern is the author of two leadership books, Everyday Leadership: Getting Results in Business, Politics and Life and Be Real: Inspiring Stories For Leading At Home And Work and is the co-author of the bestselling political book, A Governor's Story: The Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future. He is married to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who served two terms as the governor of Michigan. They have three children.