The following post is an excerpt from Shawn Kent Hayashi’s “Conversations that Get Results and Inspire Collaboration,” coming this April from McGraw Hill.
Are you able to see relationships and group dynamics and understand how they will affect the interactions between people? Understanding relationship dynamics is the ability to see around the corner and prepare for what is coming next in an interaction with someone else or a group of people. When we have a high level of awareness, we are able to be more effective collaborators. We are also able to become builders and leaders of high-performing teams.
Partnership and Enmeshment
First, let’s define the terms partnership and enmeshment as they relate to individual relationships. A partnership relationship is what exists when two people decide to do something together, and they grow as a result.
Please hold both your hands up in front of you now, thumbs touching and fingers pointing to the ceiling. Wiggle your fingers up and move your hands up. Imagine each hand is a person and the wiggle up is the two people growing and making progress upwards together. Because they are nearby, sharing ideas, information, or a story, and because the two people are carefully listening and pointed in the same direction, they are growing together. The same dynamic can occur with a group of people in a partnership relationship together.
An enmeshed relationship is what exists when two people get so overly focused on each other that they lose focus on their common goal to grow and get results together. Please clasp your hands together, interlocking your fingers sideways. It is hard to move up or grow in this enmeshed dynamic. When partners are in an enmeshed relationship, they may each be so overly focused on what the other person is doing that they take their attention off their own “That’s for Me!” lists. The blame game and passive-aggressive patterns emerge when enmeshed relationships occur. In enmeshed relationships, one person has an agenda he or she expects the other person to live according to.
You could be “partners” with a boss, a peer, a colleague, a parent, or even a child. I’m not using the word “partners” here to mean business partners or married partners, but rather to represent a way of growing together, focused on results, and collaborating. I use the word “partners” to describe a feeling that surrounds the way people interact with each other. If you are respectful of each other’s “That’s for Me!” lists, and if you find that some of the items on your separate lists align, you can grow and play together. You can focus on creating what you both want. Then you are in a partnership; then you are co- creating. Your group dynamic as it relates to accomplishing and experiencing could be called “being partners.” This is necessary for engagement and healthy collaboration.
Let me share another way of thinking about partnership and enmeshment. Imagine we are in a huge kitchen. There are many of us in this amazing kitchen, each standing at our own cooking island. We can talk with each other as we prepare our own meals. Every type of ingredient is available to us. We’ve decided to come together to enjoy making our own pizzas. I am putting pineapple and pepperoni on my gluten-free pizza crust. Have you selected the meat-lovers delight with a thick crust? Or maybe you wanted mushrooms, garlic, and onions on a thin crust? Whatever you want, the choice is yours. There is no right or wrong way to prepare this meal. There is no judgment. You are experiencing total unconditional acceptance as you create your pizza. You are making your own choices, and so am I. We are both creating desired outcomes. We are being “partners” as we co-create this experience.
Now imagine that Patel comes over to my island in the kitchen and says, “You should not be having pepperoni on your pizza!” She starts removing the pepperoni from my pizza, even though I did not ask her to do so. Patel is enmeshed. She has lost focus on her own pizza, and she is now trying to fix mine to suit her agenda. I have choices about how I will respond to her. I can let her mess up my pizza, or I can tell her to get lost, this is my pizza. I do not want to enmesh with Patel, so I kindly send her on her way. I want to be partners, engaged in having fun and growing together. I do not want to make someone else’s pizza or have her make mine. I want to be partners growing and experiencing life together in all my relationships.