Monday, October 15, 2012

How do you Relate to Others?

Someone gave me a tip on a terrific book this last month, about a little known book with a very powerful idea to teach us. The book is Leadership and Self-Betrayal by the Arbinger Institute. I found it ready for easy download onto my Kindle through Amazon. I have never seen it in a bookstore, even though it has been out for about seven years.

How do you relate to other people? There is a simple but elegant concept in this little book that I think pretty much all of us could use. You can apply this concept to your relationships with co-workers and your boss, your friends, your children or step-children, your partner, your parents, your siblings, and your neighbors.

The concept is, basically, that we all relate to other people in one of two ways: either from being in our own box, or out of it.

When we are in the box, we relate to other people like they are objects. We depersonalize them. We see ourselves as important, valuable, and benevolent. We fail to see our own shortcomings. We feel justified in not being relational, kind, or fair-minded with others because we delude ourselves that they don't matter, or they don't deserve it.

When we are out of the box, we relate to other people as people. We recognize that other people have their own story, and their own hurts and limitations. When we step out of the box, we don't assume evil intent on the other person's behavior. We watch our own tone, so that we are not hostile, demeaning, cold, or acting better than. We don't justify cruddy behavior on our part by pointing out someone else's misbehavior.

You can operate in or out of the box in any situation. You may have to correct your teenager about being more responsible with money. You can scream, yell, threaten, and demean (operating from the box), or you can choose to discuss the money situation calmly, and set limits and consequences in a more mature, grown up tone (operating out of the box).

In Leadership and Self-Deception, the main character is a middle-aged man who learns this concept at work from his new employer after he has a run-in with a direct report who makes a mistake. As it turns out, every employee at his new company gets trained on this concept. The character soon identifies that he is not only relating to his employees from atop a big box, but also his wife and teenage son who have been having problems. In the book, we get to see all the shifts that happen when one individual gets out of their box. It causes a chain-reaction of good shifts in other people.

I particularly liked the concept of self-betrayal. The book teaches that when we don't do the right thing for others---both those we know and complete strangers---we actually betray ourselves.

This book is an easy read, and a paradigm shift that could change your family, your work day, and ultimately, your life. Think about tearing down your box today, and stick it out for recycling. Taking responsibility for doing your part to make things better, with your partner, children, co-workers, family, and friends is a huge step towards being your best and most healthy self.

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