I struggled with the concept for years. It seemed to imply that I should,
a) spend less time doing the work I loved while fighting to create a career, and more time at home, and
b) not think about work at home, nor home at work.
It created a never-ending tug-o-war.
The concept, to me, still seems shallow, and negative. It implies a certain laziness at work or at home: that if we mention work/life balance to our work colleagues, we are less committed; and, if it comes up at home it implies we are too work-focused.
To me finding a harmony in life is not about splitting time between work and home. It’s about giving 100% of my effort to work and to home and that’s measured, not by minutes and hours, but by the quality of the relationships.
I’m with author Susan Scott (Fierce Conversations) who says relationships are, at their most basic, a series of conversations. So, make each conversation count. Sounds simple? Maybe, but it’s a life-long learning process.
Every conversation, negative or positive, leaves a long tail – an imprint on the relationship. We will all remember conversations, where a relationship has been broken for a long time by one conversation. And, we all have relationships where, even after years, we can pick up from where we left off, seamlessly and with ease.
The art of the conversation involves making sure every transaction has our full attention, for every second. It involves deep-listening, including the clever use of silence. It includes not interrupting. It involves intense concurrent self-examination. It involves, in some conversations, an ebb and flow of tension. It involves knowing how to raise the ‘big issue’, whatever that may be; and more importantly not avoiding it. Sometimes it involves high level self-control. It almost always involves the concept of win/win and mutual respect. And, yes, it involves making sure your opinion is also heard.
And each one of those pillars has complexities. For instance, with listening, I’ve read that the average Australian can tolerate about four seconds of silence with a friend before feeling an overwhelming urge to speak – to fill the void. Try it. Then, how do you make a conversation better with that knowledge?
Some management consultants spruik that listening is the single most important art for a leader. To me, that cheapens the other skills of leadership. Listening is critical, but it’s a fraction of the art of building strong relationships. Inspiring a team is a more hard-won and higher level skill. Defining the vision, brand and objectives is more skilful yet.
Steve Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) famously authored the phrase, ‘Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.’ He also imprinted into business culture the concept of win/win.
Susan Scott, in Fierce Conversations, has built on that and focused on the complexity of all our relationships.
I’ve discovered that many people don’t think about the importance of constantly building relationships and the wisdom it involves. For them each relationship is at risk of degenerating uncontrollably to a win/lose tug-o-war.
And this notion of the relationship-art doesn’t mean that every relationship is going to be smooth as honey. It’s two-way, and some people simply aren’t meant to get along. You know that from experience, and you can study it most easily in politics.
But it does mean that if all our relationships, the important ones at home and work, are where they should be, you have the harmony people yearn for with a work/life balance.