Turning points are moments where things could either end or continue, implode or expand.
Sometimes they are simple moments, like the end of a semester, when you say “Let’s stay in touch,” and take someone’s phone number instead of just letting it end. Or when you finish a contract and ask the customer what else they need.
Just as often, the turning points are crises.
Usually they creep up on you.
How to make it turn
A crisis, fundamentally, is simply opportunity to deepen understanding. I mean, we are all different and messed up in our special ways, so something will go wrong. Either side can initiate a fix. I have 4 personal stories of how it can go:
- Both sides take responsibility.
- One side takes responsibility and the other side goes along.
- One side takes responsibility and the other side doesn’t go along.
- Neither side takes responsibility.
I’m not OK, you’re not OK
It’s summer. The kids are home. I work from home.
They wake up late. They get on the computer. They bum around. They look at mobile devices for hours. They ask me to make them food. They leave their stuff lying around the living room.
At some point I can’t take it anymore and yell at them. I say I never want to talk about chores again and they should just leave me alone and I’ll do it all myself.
I calm down. I take my son out to lunch. We each say the things that are bothering us. I promise to set aside an hour a day to be with him. I put it in my calendar. He promises to not make me remind him more than once when that hour comes around, and to get off the computer immediately.
He gets up late the next day. He gets on the computer. But before he gets on the computer, he says these magic words: “I hung out the laundry.” The next day, the dude gets up and does the same thing after saying those same magic words.
I didn’t ask him to do that. He just took a look at his own behavior, the behavior that triggered my being upset, and he took responsibility. I looked at my behavior — not making time — and he looked at his.
Why would I ever talk about chores or homework again? We have set it up so that discussion simply will not come up again. The only discussion is something like “If you won’t be home at 4 pm, when should we reschedule our hour?”
Takeaway: If someone apologizes to you, even (especially) when it is their fault, that’s your opportunity to look at your own responsibility in the situation.
When you have to live with someone, the incentive is high to make it work out. That’s not how all relationships work.
Once I wrote a website twice. The customer wasn’t happy with the first website, so I wrote it again. New structure, new style, new text. The whole thing. 40 web pages. In under a week. They still weren’t happy.
I said, OK, I see that you have very specific ideas of what you want. I thought I was up to this job, but it’s not working out. I suggest you write it on your own rather than outsource. No charge. (First failed project in 15 years!!! So grateful!)
They said, wow, we really respect that. It was a very pleasant conversation, and they honestly did use their own text for their website, and I did not bill them. I’ve referred customers to them, when I thought it was a good fit.
If they’d said to me, you are the 3rd writer who has tried this and we feel we should pay you for your time, I might one day consider working for them again. (I know I’m at least the 2nd.)
As it is, I think they are great people, with high standards, and they know that I’m an honest business person. No hard feelings but no continued relationship.
Takeaway: Make a point to apologize first. Even (especially) when the other guys are wrong, take responsibility for your part. It creates goodwill and understanding. Don’t expect them to take their part of the responsibility. Pretend it is 100% you and it will be fine.
I have a friend who can’t get a Visa card because she cancelled a card on which she owed 75 shekels (under $20) when she moved house. Visa couldn’t find her to send her the bill, and eventually when they found her years later, she’d been blacklisted for 20 years or something absurd. She paid them the money owed, and even a fine, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that it was their fault in the first place. There was nobody to talk to.
That sounds trivial, but it happens in personal relationships all the time.
I have a friend I’ve known for a few years. We weren’t friends until one day she said to me, “You know, I realized that for the last 2 years, I don’t listen to anything you say, because you once raised your voice to me. I decided you were the kind of person who raises her voice, and I never listened to you again. I realize that since that incident, you didn’t raise your voice and I am still holding a grudge from 2 years ago.”
I had been super careful not to raise my voice around her after that first incident, because I am the type of person who talks loud. But I realized it really bothered her, and I’d been super polite. It just took her 2 years to realize that I was being considerate in her presence.
We all have people in our life who have changed, who are making an effort for us, or who have apologized, but no matter what they do, we have carved out a reputation for them. It’s all over for them. No matter what they say or do.
Takeaway: Listen when people apologize. Leave them room to improve.
If only I were always an angel and always took responsibility for my part in a relationship. Sometimes I don’t apologize first. Sometimes I don’t apologize at all.
I was on the phone with a friend last week, discussing some misunderstanding. We have different ideas about what it means to “stay in touch”. We’ve been subtly saying varying degrees of insulting things to one another for about 6 months now. We’ve been pretending to be nice, you know, but we’ve been inserting the appropriate jab at just the right spot.
“So, where do we go from here?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Now probably isn’t the ideal time to discuss it.”
“Right. Can we speak about that later?”
“Yeah, call me.”
Takeaway: Unless you like a lot of clicks in your life, see the other takeaways.