Does Getting in the Middle Work?

Whether it’s in diplomacy or working things out in a family, being in the middle will rarely achieve more than a band-aid’s worth of value. Sometimes, our issues are no more than band-aids, but usually when we allow ourselves to be in the middle or look to others to get in the middle, there are significant expanses to traverse and inefficiencies to address that can be endemic. Creating a quick fix does not address the true impact of the gap. And that can mean that you are dealing with the same kind of issue again just weeks, days or hours later.

Sometimes we get in the middle because it is uncomfortable for us to deal with the friction of the conflict in our space. It’s truly more about us than it is about both parties moving on in the best possible way. If it stops, we are relieved. But like most fixes, it won’t stay that way for long, so even in a selfish way we are not doing much for ourselves, let alone the main parties involved. If we bring others into the middle regularly, then we probably have a great opportunity to expand ourselves and deal with conversations that we normally pull away from.

Encouraging people to do the hard things, to tell the truth, to work on their issues themselves without a go-between, to look deeply at their own responsibility for how things have gone instead of just helping them get over the hump of the problem, will always lead to a greater potential for growth. They may not choose to do that, but then they are left one step closer to addressing things head on, because one method of avoiding the consequences of working things out is now off the table.

If you are going to involve a third party and don’t want to wind up in the same place again, then be sure to be open to feedback, to look as carefully at what you are bringing to the issue that makes it go the way it is as you are looking at the other person and making it about them.

This isn’t easy, but facing the same thing over and over again without it changing fundamentally is a lot more difficult, we just are limited to only hindsight being 20/20. There’s no reliable way to tell the future and see that the issue you’re dealing with now is one you’ll be confronted by over and over again. If we knew, we’d see that the time to address things head on is right now.

We Need Permission

REALLY wanting someone to understand something, especially when you think it’s for their own benefit, has nothing to do with them getting it. In the end, how much you want them to get it is what may impact them the most and usually puts our (work, family, friend, romantic) partners in defense, reaction and protection.

The willingness of your conversation partner is the most valuable currency there is in relating to each other. Cultivate it wisely and know when it hasn’t been offered to you.

Sometimes there is no in door. Knowing how to love and take care of ourselves when the door we want to be open is closed can be the most valuable currency for our own well-being and finally takes the pressure off the other person to take care of you by letting you in.

People do things differently

Holy shit, this has caused me so much agita in my life. This tendency I have to control, to think I know best so often. People doing things differently is a real test for some of us. It defines the experience of some relationships. It can be incredibly pervasive. It can help us see how anxiety and being in the unknown goes in our lives.

It seems so simple, but this phrase makes me pause. It’s truth. It’s a mirror. People do things differently.

Our relationship to people doing things differently is something we can look at as leaders, managers, partners, employees, friends, family and of course, romantic partners. If we’re the controlling type and we get intentional about letting people do things differently, we really have to deal with ourselves. It’s a highly meditative act, to notice what we go through when we just let people “do them” and expand our comfort with it. It can be powerfully transformative to isolate this distinction and practice it on purpose.

If we’re working with someone on something and letting them be, then we need to just let clear expectations and standards do their work and let go of “the how” around how they get there. If we make the how more important than it has to be, then we’re going to transfer our pain from anxiety to them and create a fairly miserable situation. We will also likely miss out on any learning that others’ creativity can provide and have little patience for people’s own process and learning curve. People are not people anymore, they’re “do it right-ers” or they become a problem for us.

Sometimes, though, it’s time to train. Training creates effective uniformity and is necessary in some environments. Training really requires agreement, otherwise it’s force and struggle. Training always has some resistance to it, but ideal training is you and the trainer partnering together around expanding your own resistance. When we take responsibility for making training look this way in our lives, we can be grateful for being trained, grateful for the expansion that comes from it. When we take responsibility for this agreement as the trainer, we get to let go of one rival and love our trainee for their courage, commitment and integrity. Resistance is likely to show up, but we can go back to that relationship with the trainee and walk through it together.

Unfortunately, our first exposure to training included no such agreement. It couldn’t. We were babies. We couldn’t choose our trainer and we didn’t know about the idea of agreeing to this training relationship. It was just thrust upon us and it likely created our relationship to training and being trained. By looking to this agreement, choosing it, empowering it and continuing to be responsible for it as we grow up, we can cut that initial conditioning of how it went out of our lives. If we don’t, we’re just likely to repeat our initial relationship to training and being trained.

Getting clear on what is happening in a relationship – allowing each person to do things how they do them or choosing to be trained in certain areas of the relationship – can make a huge difference, cut out some unnecessary pain and create an intimacy beyond control where we can truly appreciate each other more as human beings.

Whew, that feels better.