Setting The Standard

BACK IN THE EARLY 2000s, the great Steve Biddulph came to town and led a workshop on parenting that changed the way I look at conflict in relationships.  

I wasn’t even there, it was that transformative.    

My dear wife had the sense to attend and returned home with, amongst other things, a powerful standard that would never leave me.     

He had said something like the following. 

When setting a boundary with one of your kids – grounding them or something similar – the process is not over until the two of you are closer to each other than when you started.    

In other words, the aftermath of conflict should result in deepening intimacy between all those involved.    

The Goodwill Balance-Sheet

To be clear, that had not been my working assumption.

Until then, my perspective on relationships had revolved around the Bank Account Model. Some interactions were deposits, some were withdrawals, and there had better be way more of the former to allow for a few of the latter.   

A straight numbers-game.    

In that view, conflictual interactions with others were survivable if there’s enough goodwill in the account; we’re going to take a hit, but on balance we will be ok.   

Biddulph was telling us that we needn’t even take that hit. Interpersonal mayhem could leave our relationship better off than if we’d never had the conflict in the first place. Wow.    

Now, if this is not yet sounding particularly impressive to you that may be because you’re such an awesome parent that I’m merely describing how you already operate. 

But I’ve yet to make my point. Parenting isn’t actually what I have in mind.  

My realization, in the intervening years, has been to understand that this very standard fits for all relationships. It gets the most interesting when applied in the workplace.      

Try This In The Workplace…

Picture firing someone and ending up closer to them on the other side of that interaction than you were to begin with. Imagine also what the benefits might be to your organization of such an outcome – what if letting someone go increased their sense of loyalty to you and the organization they are leaving?    

That might seem farfetched but is in fact completely possible.   

A client of mine just did exactly that. Twice!

This CEO of a small dozen or so person startup fired one of the founding team members, who is also a personal friend, and produced a raving fan of the organization as a result. Remarkable. 

Later on, one of the executive team was let go of and afterward I barely recognized them – in the transition period that followed (obviously this was no Friday afternoon ‘get your stuff and security will escort you to the door’ procedure) they struck me as positively buoyant and certainly not uncomfortable or awkward in still being there. Incredible!   

It would take me too long to go into all of the things that make such an outcome possible.

Thankfully the most important factor is this: know that it’s possible and try every and all authentic means at your disposal to bring this standard alive.  


No matter how conflictual the anticipated interaction is in your mind, take as your objective the enhancement of your connection with that person.   

It’s entirely possible.

And if we can achieve that at work, then we can do it everywhere in our lives.

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