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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You're a Great Guy, But Don't Marry My Daughter!

Dr. Mark Goulston, clinical psychiatrist turned business coach, describes in a column of his in Fast Company his meeting with a certain high-powered personality.

Ed is a highly competent and successful CEO, respected and admired by many in the business world. He has good manners and for the most part, is respectful of others. On the other hand, his modus operandi is characterized by that typical signature-tune of highly pressured, impatient executives: "Gimme the bottom line!"

"Leaders like Ed," observes Dr. Goulston, "are superb problem-solvers when given the data,
and like data machines, they can't stand it when people belabor points with irrelevant details and stories."

So the writer tells Ed that he's highly impressed with his fine character and all his abilities and accomplishments. On hearing this heartwarming praise, Ed already senses that there's a "but" coming, and he asks Dr. Goulston what it is. His reply, apparently, was totally unexpected, and although Ed was somewhat puzzled by it, he did not dispute it:

"I wouldn't want my sister to marry you!" Why? "Because she would die of loneliness."

Dr Goulston explains: "What Ed failed to appreciate - as do many leaders who are goal driven to a fault - is that, especially at the end of the day, especially at home, the telling of the story is the data. The story itself is not all that matters. And for the data to compute in the right way to be satisfying (instead of frustrating) to the person talking, Ed and leaders like him need to provide unhurried and undivided attention."

In other words, when busy, goal oriented, and- inevitably - intimacy-challenged business people and professionals like Ed and his ilk finally touch base with their spouses at the end of the day, "Get to the point" or "Spare me the details" just won't cut it. In fact, a demand to "get to the point" is missing the point. Totally. No way to sustain an intimate relationship.

Dr Goulston quotes the eminent psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion who talks about the overriding need to "listen without memory or desire." Listening with "memory" means you have an old agenda you're trying to plug someone into; when you listen with "desire" you have a new agenda you're trying to do the same thing with.

But in either case, these are your agendas not the other person's. And the other party isn't fooled for a second.

For more insight on this topic, read the gripping but sad tale of the mysterious Harold Burwell, everybody's dream boss. Or check out my own contribution on the subject.

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