There are some people we might think as unbearable, a toxic relationship. People that we don’t want to interact with, at all, yet we can’t avoid them.  It could be a colleague, a friend, a family member.  We can’t just get along, and most likely we immediately put the blame on them.  They do this; they do that; we rarely think; what am I doing that is making them behave this way?  Is their behavior at all influenced by something I do?

I used to have a peer; I never felt trusted. I never felt that she thought of me as a peer, but rather as an unreliable Direct Report that needed to be reminded of everything all the time, and every issue had to be debated.    It was annoying to the point that I stopped trying to address it, or even to collaborate,  and I assumed a position of passive aggressiveness, on purpose.  It was the other person’s fault that I behave this way, and that was it; we had a toxic relationship.

It turns out that this person’s behavior was driven by the fact that she thought I was a control freak, and my frustration came from being unable to call all the shots.  This revelation came too late in our relationship; I moved on shortly after I made the discovery.   And I wonder what type of relationship we would have had if I knew that earlier.  If I knew, that it was my behavior triggering this person’s response.

If we can understand what we are bringing to the situation, we will know better how to address it.  Moreover,  we won't get it unless we ask this person for feedback (e.g. what have I done?).  Yet, feedback tends to focus on the past, and the person will be reminded of all the wrong things we have done. 

Another approach, which gives more positive information starts with asking the question: “What can I do to be a better partner, friend, coworker, for you”? 

past-future-signpostsNote that the question is not what have I done for you to behave this way, which focuses in the past and puts the blame on the other person.  But rather, what can I do to be better?; focusing on the future and you.  You can change the future and your behavior, you can’t change the past and what you have done.   

When I finally realized what was the issue at hand, but most importantly I knew what to do to fix it,  our relationship changed overnight.  We started to work better together until we parted ways.   

If you are stuck in a toxic relationship, and you can’t seem to fix it, you may think it’s all the other person’s fault.  Perhaps you have something to do in the way they behave.  What you’re reacting to may have little to do with them, and more to do with you.

Marshall Goldsmith, the number one executive coach int he world has popularized the idea of “feedforward”.  Watch the video below for his explanation of the concept.