The working world is changing. So many of us work in a different location than our bosses or our teams or the people we have to interact with to get things done. These remote relationships are more difficult to keep healthy and positive, because communication is less frequent and often less personal. Add multiple time zones and language barriers, and you’ve got a recipe for misunderstanding and frustration.
Contributing to this problem is our tendency to jump to negative conclusions. We get an email message with a request, but we read it as a terse demand. We hear from a co-worker about a decision that was made, and we assume we’ve been slighted because no one cared to notify us. A friend tells us about something that was said about us in a meeting, and we take offense because it looks like someone was trying to throw us under the bus.
I’ve found that remote relationships tend to move toward entropy unless they are maintained. Over time, our efficient but not always effective communication methods tend to wear the enamel off of the relationships until our interactions take on the sensation of chewing aluminum foil. The longer we go without a face-to-face meeting, the more strained the relationships become until we are imputing bad motive to everything the other person does.
The best thing we can do in these circumstances is get together for some face-to-face interaction. There’s something about spending time with a person, hearing her side of the story, talking about your shared values and goals… that creates grace in the relationship. It helps you realize that this other person is actually working toward the same things as you in many circumstances. You stop seeing them as “the enemy” and start seeing them as simply a fallible human being – in other words, just like you.
After sharing time together, when the other person starts to behave in similar ways as before, you will typically react in one of two ways.
1) Recognize that this is just this person’s personality or style – not right or wrong, just different.
2) Assume a positive motive on the other person’s behalf.
You are willing to extend grace to the other person, because you’ve seen that he/she is a person. You’re focused more on what you have in common than what divides you. You’re willing to forgive small faults, because you have them, too. Trust and understanding have developed between you, and a relationship can go a lot of miles on those types of fuel.
In today’s world of shrinking budgets and over-committed schedules, it’s difficult to make face-to-face meetings a priority. It may not seem worth the cost of travel and time away from the office, but what we often don’t recognize are the less tangible costs associated with frustrated relationships. Strained interactions, avoidance, disparaging remarks to friends and co-workers about the other person, petulance, passive aggressive or even aggressive behaviors… all add up.
There is just no substitute for spending time together to replace the grace in a relationship.