I read a recent article from the US. It was written from a “Faith” background and was discussing the thorny subject of marriage failure. There were the usual discussion points around money, sex, at the high levels, and other disagreements further down the order. However it postulated that the main reason for marriage failure was misaligned expectations. At the point people choose to get married they all carry very high expectations of each other and the relationship itself. Quite often these are implicit rather than explicit, and have grown organically over time without any great discussion. Sex and money are just the symptoms of misaligned expectations, and without initial and follow up discussion the perceived and real differences, in all the expectations will just fester and grow.

We see this in business all the time, and can be quite often the root cause for  failure of projects and initiatives.  However, at work we have systems and processes that can mitigate  against the misalignment. When we embark on something new, we will get together as a team, brainstorm and formulate a plan. We will think about objectives, scope , alignment and communication. Sometimes there will be stresses and we will have to proceed with difficult project discussions. Do we really do that when we plan to spend our future lives with a partner? I would suggest that we get caught up in the emotions, of our impending union, and only think about the good things. We know that the power of emotions is greater than that of processing and logic, so no real surprises with these situations.

In order to get alignment, we need to have trust. Trust would be the key first step in both a personal relationship, but also a business relationship. One would imagine it would be harder to get trust in a business relationship because of business dynamics, complexity and multiple people being involved. However, there are processes, checks and balances that help us along the way. With a personal relationship, trust is implicit at the start, otherwise we would not be getting together or married in the first place. This gives a great start, but there are no real explicit processes that help us along the way, as there would be in business. We have to build these as we go along. That is why it is so important that in relationships we have to check in with each other, recognise each others emotions, ask  the empathetic questions, listen to each other in order to navigate a path, maintain trust, and most importantly be clear on each others expectations. Even if some of those expectations were misaligned at the start of the relationship, it is still possible to get better alignment, but only if we ask the right questions. It feels easier sometimes to say nothing, if we recognise a problem, but “easy” is not the best solution. We need to be brave to face up to the challenges, and ask those “Difficult Questions”

As part of my  regular consulting deliveries on change management and cultural transformation, I am always talking about how to have “Difficult Conversations”, “Performance Dialogues” but using open, fair and empathetic  questions. This applies in life, as well as work.