This week, I was on the road conducting Bud To Boss training. As I called home on Sunday evening, I found myself unable to listen to my wife telling me about her day.
Try as I might, I could not get my mind to focus on what she was saying. I could only think about what I still had to do to prepare for the next day before going to bed. Sadly, this is not the first time I have struggled to have a fruitful conversation with my wife while I am traveling for business.
After we ended our phone call and I hung-up the phone, I finally realized the cause for this problem. My wife was not the problem. The topic of conversation was not the problem. My desire to engage in the conversation was not the problem.
I really wanted to engage, and I couldn’t because of the way I had defined the task of calling home. (Since I am a pretty task-oriented person, even relationship issues become tasks in my mind.)
Here’s the way my mental task list looked:
- Check my course notes.
- Confirm I have all training resources ready to go.
- Call home.
- Press my clothes.
- Read to relax.
- Go to bed.
Notice that the way I defined the task of calling home did not include listening to my wife and engaging in a conversation. And therein lies the problem. As soon as she answered the phone, my task was complete. I had called home.
When I mentally checked “call home” off my list, my task-oriented mind immediately shifted to the next task – press my clothes. As a result, I couldn’t force myself to listen despite my desire to do so.
Now I realize that in order to keep myself under control, I have to redefine the task to include listening and engaging in conversation.
If you’re as task-oriented as I am and you want to build strong relationships at work and at home, you might consider looking at how you define your relationship related “tasks.” Make sure that you include the relationship parts of the task in your definition.
If you’re more people-oriented than me, my struggle may not make any sense to you at all. I totally understand. You may, though, have the opposite challenge. You might define task issues by their relationship impact and that definition just might get in your way at times.
Here’s the bottom-line: if you encounter situations that frequently cause you to trip up in your relationships, take a close look at how you’re defining the situation. Your definition might be the source of your problem.