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Cracking the Code on a Difficult Work Relationship: The Thought Model in Action

Relationships are critical in the working environment. They are also hard. Have you had challenging relationships that frustrate you, strip your confidence, make you question your place at the table? I have, and bet you have too.

I remember this one critical co-worker: very smart, very driven, very passionate about the mission. But they were not a team player. Each movement forward in the program involved challenging language, pushing the limits, demanding more, and passive aggressive tactics. They were aggressive in meetings, used harsh language in emails, and took every advantage of situations to further their agenda.

Or so I thought.

“Thought” was the most important word of that last sentence. One of the most important lessons I learned from my coaching training and certification was the thought model* and how it shows us our true reality. The model tells us that our thoughts drive our emotions, our emotions drive our actions, and our actions drive our results. If we want different results, we have to change our thoughts, NOT our circumstances.

One of the best ways to prove this model’s efficacy is to apply it to challenging relationships. Let me show you by breaking this example down:

1. Circumstance or fact: I have a critical co-worker.

2. Thought that I have: “They are not a team player”

3. Emotion that thought evokes: Frustration

4. Actions from the feeling: When I feel frustrated, I shut down, ruminate about this individual, challenge them back, don’t collaborate, avoid this person, work around them, don’t make an effort to create common ground

5. Results from these actions: I am not being a team player with this person”

See how that works? It’s not the circumstance or fact that causes my results- it’s my thoughts about the circumstance. It can be jarring at first to see yourself in this light, but I guarantee that it works every time. It was hard for me to believe that I was being just as uncollaborative as they were at first, but the model does not lie. If you want to have a different result, create actions that make it true and watch what happens to your feelings and ultimately your thoughts. It’s very powerful and freeing.

But how do I get started, you may ask. Start with simple questions to help you focus on your thoughts. Here are a few of my favorites;

1. What if they are perfect as they are?

2. What are facts vs. thoughts in my story?

3. How am I contributing to this result?

4. How could they be perceiving me?

5. What are some new actions I can take or actions I need to stop in order to get a better result?

Once I used this model, my relationship slowly improved. As I looked at my own actions, I remembered that I cannot change anyone but myself, and that their drive and passion was similar to mine. That made me change how I showed up, gave grace and developed new ways to collaborate. It took time and hard work, but it was a game changer.

I’m not saying this is easy, but I guarantee that with time and practice, this approach will free you from so many stresses and improve your relationships with those around you. And especially your relationship with yourself. Give it a try!

*The Thought Model is the intellectual property of The Life Coach School

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