Friday, September 30, 2011

The Work Alibi: When It’s Harder to Go Home

Although most executives’ private lives are not in terrible shape, there are some unresolved personal problems, which their devotion to work prevents them from attending to and it produces a feeling of guilt, indicating that they are at least partly responsible for these situations through neglect. There are three main cases when work is to blame for issues in private lives:

·         Negative emotional spillover resulting from a stressful work situation
·         Workaholism: escapism in work through overinvolvement
·         Being a “prisoner of success”: fallen in love with the job and the rewards it brings

Even though most executives do not confess and state differently, the time that they have available for private life is roughly equal to, if not greater than, the time they devote to work. Thus, it is not the lack of time to blame. The author identifies four factors that hurt private lives:
·         Incorrect assumptions. Most common incorrect assumption is that family life is easy. However, most people neither have full awareness of the problems that can arise in a marriage nor the skills necessary to establish an intimate relationship that is intended to be exclusive and last a lifetime. Hence, we need to learn them over time in a persistent way, which takes energy, commitment, and the gradual development of necessary skills.
·         Fear of confronting conflicts in marriage. While most people who have problems in personal relationships will state that they avoid difficult conversations because of fear of being rejected or focusing on the potential negative consequences rather than analyzing the possible benefits, the real fear comes from the fact that people don’t know how to go about conflict situations with their loved ones. The reasoning many people use when trying to decide whether to explore difficult issues openly often looks like this:
·         Legitimate distractions. Work and children are dangerous distractions from dealing with marital issues because they are such legitimate, right, and perfect excuses.
·         A “mañana” attitude. We cannot recover the relationship that we did not have (with our children, parents, etc.) and the experience a person misses today cannot be had tomorrow. People, who forfeit the present, risk the quality of their future private lives.

Even though it is not easy changing habits of thought and behavior, there are potential solutions to the above-mentioned problems:
·         Avoid saying “mañana”. Thinking of family life as a chore makes people find excuses to stay longer at work. Executives need to develop creative, appealing ways of being with their families and realize that they need to enjoy their private lives. However, there is a caveat that they need to be cautious and take a step at a time: closing emotional gaps too quickly might scare others off, even though they are your closest family.
·         Deal with conflicts. Both must believe in the idea that the marriage can be improved and determining what works and what does not in their relationship is the first step. Emphasizing the positive will create an atmosphere of warmth and trust, and in addition to that people need to learn two fundamental skills of dealing with conflict:
§  Continuous dialogue (not ad-hoc venting of accumulated emotions), which involves giving both positive and negative feedback
§  Dealing with persistent and deeper conflicts. “Buried” (latent) conflicts will constantly reemerge in fits of reciprocal blaming, explosion and withdrawal.
·         Become authentic. While not all relationships can be revitalized or launched anew, reawakening a sense of excitement and pleasure in a relationship is achievable. It involves (1) clarity in demands from each other, (2) learning both to get rid of excessive fears and unconscious fantasies and to be authentic, and (3) talking. Hope and trust are basic virtues that people have to develop (E.Erikson), which are impossible without transparency between the partners. Finally, when people are candid, communication might be painful but it is not in itself difficult.

It is never too late to begin, and the opportunity costs might be much higher (remember “mañana”!). To start with, it is important to abandon two incorrect assumptions: (1) having a good private life is easy or that people can easily acquire the necessary skills, and (2) personal relationships are too complex and difficult to handle, and therefore you should not even try. Then, you need to set clear and specific goals, which would talk to these questions:
-          What do I want my marital relationship to be?
-          What do I want my relationship with my child(ren) be?
-          What are my self-development goals?

Further, select one or two improvement projects at home (redecoration, family trip, improving relations with a family member, etc.), which must be modest (not revolutionary), measurable, pleasurable and must involve at least one other person. Results are more important than speed, hence improve “small” things first.

Finally, suspend your skepticism: small changes can make a significant difference!

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails