Sanity Notes #030- Assuming the best of our partners

Sanity Notes #030- Assuming the best of our partners

Matt Munson

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I find parenting to be one of the greatest gauntlets of my experience as a human. I love my two children more than anything in the world, yet they can trigger me and send my insides into an angry mess quite quickly.

The people we are closest to have the greatest capacity to deregulate us: to take us offline, piss us off, or hurt us.

One of the primary reasons they hold so much power is we take their actions personally.

When I see another three-year-old jumping on the table at the local pizza spot, I laugh it off. When it’s my child, I feel immediately embarrassed. My face goes flush; my head heats up…I am put suddenly into fight or flight. My inner voice shouts: “You are fucking up! What kind of parent are you that your kid jumps on tables in restaurants?”

At that moment, I am taking my daughter’s actions personally. I am assuming her actions say something about me rather than something about her.

We make these same subconscious leaps with our romantic partners, co-founders, and close friends.

Yet the truth about humans is we are typically acting in reaction to what’s going on inside us not as a result of the actions or words of others.

Co-founder conflict is one of the most common topics I hear about as a coach. A founder will show up and unload about all the horrible things her co-founder is doing.

One of the questions I find most helpful in these situations is to ask, “What do you think is going on for your co-founder?” This question is powerful because it provides the receiver an offramp: from the painful, me-oriented view of the experience to a compassionate, curious, other-oriented one.

When we take the actions of others personally, which is a very human thing to do, we short-circuit the opportunity for curiosity and connection. Curiosity and connection are the antidotes to most painful experiences in partnership.

If I see, for example, that my co-founder is feeling overwhelmed with stress, anxious about her home life, or fearful about navigating her role in our work, I can meet her with understanding. I can come to see that she showed up shitty in that meeting because of something boiling beneath the surface.

With those we are closest to, the ‘shitty’ can often show up with our name on it. Our co-founder might say something like, “You never appreciate my effort!” and suddenly, we are on the defense. We want to list all the way we have in fact been quite appreciative, thank you very much, and in fact we are a wonderful partner and appreciative person. How dare she question us! Yet, even when the expression comes with our name on it, there’s an opportunity to be curious.

Rather thank taking her outburst as a personal attack, you might think to yourself: “Ok, let me slow this down. My partner is feeing unappreciated. Or something else painful is going on for her. How can I learn more?”

When my daughter refuses to listen to me and jumps on the table, I can get stuck in my own painful message, I can yell at her, or I can kneel next to her and get curious. What’s going on? Is she needing to get some energy out? Is she needing a hug or some connection? Did I neglect to connect with her when I picked her up from preschool?

We can do the same with our co-founder, team members, friends, or romantic partners. We can slow it down. We can come with curiosity. We can drop the temptation to take the interaction personally.

The goal is not to let the other person off the hook. If my co-founder yells at me in a meeting, that’s not ok. But it is likely she knows that is not ok. She may be stuck in her anxiety or shame either about her behavior or the initial cause. The path to connection is through curiosity. Once we have come into more clarity on the underlying issue, we can also talk about the behavior. We can make requests from a connected place rather than pleading our case to someone who cannot really hear us anyway.

Being human is hard sometimes. Being a partner or a parent is hard often. If you are finding yourself in a tough spot in any of these roles, you are not alone.

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With love from LA,

Matt

Looking for some support? If now is the time to consider coaching (or a CEO peer circle) reach out here.

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Matt Munson

CEO coach @ sanitylabs.co. Angel investor. Startup founder. Committed to helping leaders feel less alone in the journey.