My coaching client, let’s call him Terry, was frustrated. Like many people, he valued harmony, and to achieve it he often didn’t speak up but when things didn’t go the way he thought they should. But, despite his best efforts, his frustration would often leak out, derailing his plans.
Harmony, I explained, takes work. It requires awareness of your own needs, wants, and beliefs as well as being curious about the needs, wants, and beliefs of others. With this awareness, you can communicate assertively to reach collaboration. In short, you must lean into difference rather than avoid it and pretend it doesn’t exist.
In this post, I share a framework that can help you have more harmony in your work and personal life.
A need, like food, water, clothing, and shelter, is a must-have. If a need is not met, we will consciously or unconsciously behave in ways to fulfill our needs. Beyond the physiological needs, Abraham Maslow describes psychological needs that include, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. When considering your own and others' needs, here’s a checklist of needs that I describe in my 2012 book on Self-leadership:
You can remember this list with the acronym SCARF. Now reflect on any time you were denied any of these needs, and how you behaved. This will give you insights into the behaviors of others.
Wants, as opposed to needs, are negotiable and are often a function of economics or politics. I might want the latest model car but not be able to afford it, or I might want to attain a C-level position in a company but someone else has been promised it. Our wants create motivation for action until the want is satisfied or substituted. So, whilst I might want the latest model car, I might be satisfied with a well-maintained secondhand model that is within my means.
If you are going to achieve harmony, you must know what you and others want and be able to explore substitutes.
In my experience, the biggest barriers to harmony are beliefs. Beliefs are ideas that are accepted as truths in the absence of proof. Despite the lack of proof, beliefs feel real to the believer and they filter their experience to confirm their worldview and discount any contrary evidence. Individuals react when things (the world or others) don’t behave in accordance with their beliefs. This is how you should behave, or this is how it must be, the believer thinks or says.
To achieve harmony, we must be able to acknowledge that our beliefs may be partially, or fully incorrect and that the beliefs of others may be partially or fully true. This takes a high level of self-awareness and humility.
Terry understood my explanation and was beginning to accept that he would need to learn to speak up if he wanted to achieve harmony at work and at home. But, "how to speak up?" He asked.
Let me illustrate with a simple thought experiment. Imagine two teenage sisters, let’s call them Louise and Denise. Louise and Denise each want an orange and proceed to the kitchen. When they arrive, they discover there is only one orange left.
What do they do?
I have posed this question to many groups around the world, and the immediate answer is usually to cut the orange in half. Other solutions include substituting the orange, fighting over the orange, or buying another.
I ask whether cutting the orange in half is a win-win?
Many people will tell me, ‘Yes’ and are surprised when I disagree and inform them that getting fifty percent of what you want is not a win-win but a compromise.
So, how do we collaborate for a win-win outcome? Well, do we know what Louise needs or wants the orange for? Do we know what Denise needs or wants the orange for? Or were we in such a hurry to get to a solution that we forgot to ask?
Perhaps, Louise wants the orange for an orange cake, and Denise needs the orange for juice. If this was the case, Louise only needs the orange skin, which leaves Denise with the orange flesh for her juice—a win-win!
Louise and Denise are both members of the same family, so collaboration is preferable to conflict. Working for an organization is like being in a family. We have individual and departmental needs and wants that must be met to achieve our objectives, but so do our colleagues in other departments.
So, collaboration, and therefore harmony, starts with an inquiry to needs, such as,
‘What’s important to you about that?’
By making the effort to identify your own needs, wants, beliefs, and feelings, as well as those of others, you can engage in assertive communication.
I write about this in ‘The New Leadership Playbook – Being Human Whilst Successfully Delivering Accelerated Results' (Ocean Reeve Publishing 2022).
If we only know what we need, want, or believe, our communication and behaviors are aggressive. If we only know what others need, want, or believe, our communication and behaviors are passive, neither of which leads to harmony.
Assertive communication allows different perspectives to be heard and resolved because it is an honest, direct, and confident expression of needs, wants, beliefs, and feelings, which allows and actively encourages others to express themselves.
I shared with Terry that, assertive communication takes courage and effort, but if he really believes in harmony, it is worth it. The alternative is passive-aggressiveness, where feelings bubble to the surface and derail our best efforts.
Terry has now committed to modeling assertive communication and to identify his own needs and the needs of others. He will know that he is getting results when he starts to hear things like: ‘OK, I understand you need X and believe we should do Y. I’ve asked for A and want to do B. Let’s work together, so we both get what we want and move this forward.’
Is this important to you, as well?
15 Minute Masterclass for Senior Executives & Managers
Presenter: Andrew Bryant, Global Authority on Self-Leadership & Executive Presence.