How to Strengthen Relationships with 'Process Conversations'

Plan for the worst and you'll end up with the best.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #513
two people engaged in a process conversation

How Much Checking Up Do You Need?

When I first started working with Intern MG, I called him a week before a deadline to see how things were progressing. He almost bit my head off for doubting that he would turn in his deliverable on time. He’s not a man to be micro-managed.

Contrast this with my artist friend Sparkles. Sparkles lives in the moment. Very, very in-the-moment. If Sparkles is working on a project, I need to check in every couple of days to make sure things aren’t running wildly late.

Most people have a good sense of how closely they need to be managed. Ask and share. When you do work together, you’ll be able to hit the right balance for each other.

What’s Your Decision-making Style?

Some people like to have their hand in every pot. If there’s a decision to be made, they want in, whether or not they’re qualified to have an opinion on the decision. Some people prefer to leave decision-making to others. And most of us are in between.

Discuss how you like to be involved in decisions. When shmoopie and I are planning a vacation to Montreal, my decision-making style is easy. I say, “You make all the decisions. It’s a holiday. I don’t want to deal.” Shmoopie then makes all the decisions.

When we’re planning the house finances, however, it’s a very different story. I say, “We make decisions together, responsibly, taking into account our retirement plans, income for the year, and savings rates.” Then shmoopie takes out a second mortgage to pay for Presidential Suite accommodations on the trip to Montreal.

As you can see, reaching agreement on decision-making style can have tremendous implications for retirement.

Saying You’re Sorry

Fifty years ago in the movie "Love Story," Ali McGraw’s character Jennifer says, "Love means never having to say you’re sorry." "Love Story" was fiction. Plus, Jennifer dies. Who's sorry now, Ali? Who's sorry now?

Every relationship is made much more efficient if you just start apologizing on day one and keep apologizing for everything. If the other person says "You apologize too much!", apologize for that, too. Eventually, they’ll write you a very big check to go away and stop bothering them.

But while you’re still together, find out the other person’s apology language. Then you know how to apologize so they actually hear it as an apology. For details on the Five Apology Languages, check out Get-It-Done Guy episode 351.

Propose and Have that Initial Conversation

When should you set all this up? Now. Sometime early in a new relationship, have the process conversation. Don’t say, “Let’s have a process conversation.” Most people will look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Though the ones who jump at the chance will probably be great to be with. 

Instead, introduce the topic casually. “You know, I like to be able to be the best (boss, friend, co-worker, employee, shmoopie) I can. Would you object to that?” If they say yes they object, then that’s important information you can use. Run. Fast. Far away.

Otherwise, say, "Great." And then ask them about the various things we’ve been discussing. You may wonder if you can just start a process conversation, just like that? Yes. You can. Go do it.

Whether you’re getting a new boss, becoming a new boss, getting new co-workers, starting up with a new boyfriend, girlfriend, intersexfriend, husband, wife, or polyamorous family unit, a process conversation upfront can help it get off—and stay off—to a great start. Ask about communication channels, feedback, micromanagement, decision-making, and apologies. Pretty soon you’ll have a handbook for the relationship that will make it easy to have a great time together, putting your attention squarely on the agenda the two of you share.

I’m Stever Robbins. I like blunt feedback delivered kindly, and my apology language is acts of service. Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter and Facebook. If you have projects that are stalled or taking too long, check out my “Get-it-Done Groups” accountability groups. Learn more at http://SteverRobbins.com. Image of people engaged in process conversation © Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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