Why Your Partner is Still Unenlightened

“I want to do it, but he won’t go along.”

Stan had just been through an innovative marketing seminar. As a partner in a mid-size consulting firm, he was looking for ways to take the business to the next level.  The seminar opened up a whole new world for him. Thanks to new technology, ideas he’d only dreamed about years ago were now within reach. The problem was his co-chair, Bill. When Stan looked at his list of ideas, he was found himself doubting whether Bill would go along with any of it. After all, Bill had been content doing the same things for years. He must be happy with the status quo.

And therein lies the problem. One group or person wants to move forward, but they doubt they can get their unenlightened boss, coworkers, spouse, etc. on board.  Whether it’s a breakthrough communication style, a progressive marketing plan, or a new way of managing conflict, the forward thinkers want to do it, but those other folks keep holding them back.

Let’s unpack Stan’s situation a little more thoroughly to look at what’s really happening.

Stan went to the seminar. Stan heard a skilled presenter describe the current situation and why organizations need to change. Stan saw examples of how the new programs work. Stan talked with other people who are implementing the ideas. Stan had time to process the information. He thought about how it might work in his firm.

In short, Stan went on a journey. By the end of the day, Stan’s horizons are more open, he’s thinking differently than he was earlier in the day. Now he’s comparing his new mindset and ideas to his partner, who hasn’t had the benefit of the journey.   His partner hasn’t seen the data on how the landscape changed. His partner hasn’t had time to process, and he hasn’t seen examples of how it works in practice.

Stan is well intended and excited, but he’s forgetting; he wasn’t thinking this way either when the seminar started. He’s judging his business partner as unreceptive when his partner hasn’t had the benefit of the new information and training.

I call this, the “I’m all in, they’re the problem” dynamic.

This plays out in business and personal relationships. For example, when we run leadership programs to help organizations shift from a transactional mindset to a longer-term, customer-driven mindset, leaders routinely tell us, “I’m on board, but my team doesn’t think this way.” They forget, we just spent 6 hours shaping their thinking.

I’m not immune to the dynamic myself. I recently read a piece about gratitude, and found myself thinking, my husband should be doing this.

This is a common human problem for two reasons.

  1. Bias to the present
    When a well-crafted seminar, article, or even paragraph moves us into a new headspace, it feels like we were always this way. We forget the process that got us there.
  1. You spot it; you got it
    The problems you see in others are usually the areas you struggle with yourself. Yes, your spouse could certainly benefit from a gratitude practice, but it’s only obvious because it’s something you need to work on as well.

Next time you want to get others to go along with something new, invite them to start the journey. Give them the tools to change, and don’t expect them to get there any faster than you did.