Amanda and Justin had been business partners for years, but that partnership was in danger. Justin, while attending a conference in California, bought an expensive software package. Amanda, when she found out, couldn’t believe he made that decision without even asking her.
Upon seeing the bill on the company credit card, Amanda called Justin into her office. She confronted him:
Amanda: Justin, why did you buy this expensive software package? You know we’re having a tough quarter financially. What were you thinking? Why didn’t you ask me before you spent all that money?
In the script in Amanda’s head, Justin’s response would be:
Justin: I’m sorry. You’re right. I should have talked to you first.
What was his actual response?
Justin: You’re not my mother.
Has this ever happened to you? You had a script in your head about how a conversation would go. You’d make your point. The other person would agree, or apologize, or own up to their actions. But the other person goes off script. They don’t respond the way you expect them to. What do you do?
Focus on the problem, not the person
Chances are, you’re pissed. You’re making assumptions about the person … they’re lazy, they’re an idiot, they’re self-centered, etc. So you focus on that person.
Amanda: No, I’m not your mother. So stop acting like an entitled child. Your impulsive spending is going to drive us into bankruptcy.
You can imagine where the conversation will go from there. Each side would continue to attack the other.
What can you do when the other person doesn’t respond the way you expect? When you’re thrown off because they didn’t follow the script in your head? Focus on the problem, not the person.
Amanda: Justin, we have a problem here. We had a really bad quarter financially. With the cost of the software package, how are we going to make payroll?
Focus on the problem and enlist the other person to help you solve the problem together. Remember, it’s not you vs. your business partner or colleague, it’s both of you vs. the problem.
Do hold them accountable
Amanda did follow up with a conversation on what would be a reasonable amount each business partner could spend without checking in with the other. They agreed on a number that felt fair.
Remember, we all look at the world from our own perspectives. The other person may not see the situation the same way you do. When you don’t get the reaction you expect, take a breath. Be aware if you are triggered. Instead of focusing your anger on them, focus on the problem. You’ll likely get better results.