Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are We In A Relationship?

Whether we are asking an employer, or someone we are seeing, the question is terrifying.  Even after spending significant time doing relationship things together we still might find that the other is unwilling to commit, give us the promotion, or give us a bigger percentage of the partner pie.  And that risk is too great for many of us to take; ironically, not because the status of the relationship is any different than it is, question asked or not, but because we are all paralyzed by what happens next.  What choices or decisions will we be forced to make then?

If you are brave enough to ask this question, the rewards that come might surprise you.  Contrary to instinct, asking the question is a win-win.

We continually envision ourselves in better positions: doing better work, having a better reputation, having a better relationship with a significant other.  But we rarely do anything about it.  Too often, we stop short of asking the critical questions that will engage another to support, facilitate, or validate our forward growth. What if no one else recognizes our potential? What if that means there isn't any potential? Suddenly, doing nothing about it seems safer. We persuade ourselves that it is better to exist in a world where someone might validate us, than to risk our fragile egos.  So life continues: advancing and improving only in our imaginations.

This complacency is not a character flaw.  It is a real human condition that overvalues status quo.  We feel safer in a world that we know, even if what we know makes us unhappy.  Nor can we be blamed for our fear of rejection.  Our feelings are inevitably hurt by someone saying that we don't meet the bar; even if the factors involved have little to do with our own merit. 

We can neutralize these powerful forces against change by understanding that a dead end is truly a dead end.  We will never move forward until we have accurately identified it as such.   Our ability to frame our experiences truly defines our prospective ability to utilize them as added value.  Going for the promotion and being turned down provides an opportunity to accurately assess whether this employer is the path to realize our career aspirations.  It gives us notice to diversify, seek additional training, network, and prepare an exit or improvement plan. Above all, it moves us to act.  It is the impact of consecutive action that propels us forward.

Alternately, if we can suspend our perception that one individual defines our worth, and view a "no" as simply a narrowly excluded path, we are better poised to capture the advantages available by a calculated response to a negative message.  Handling the rejection by improving quantity or quality of our work and work relationships, rather than angrily attempting to punish our employer and colleagues, provides a novel opportunity to increase credibility. Our chances of the next promotion or a successful job search elsewhere are expontentially benefitted.

Once we are on an uncharted post-relationship path, and habituate a pattern of action, improvement, or training, we uncover the astonishing secret that makes asking this question a resounding win-win.  Whether we find new work or new relationships, or stay in our current position, we are surprisingly better at what we do.  All we needed to do was kick-start the synergy of assertive behavior.  And not surprisingly, as we become better at our job or ourselves, new opportunities for advancement or connection find us.