Turning relationships around

The way we behave with others drives how others will behave with us. Whether that interaction produces positive results depends on the situation, our knowledge and the interpretative strategies we employ. We all know relationships can decline. When they do its time to stop and take a look at what is going on. McLain Smith’s ladder of reflection is a structure that can help. The steps uncovers mistaken understanding, reframe the situation, and soften our stance, opening the opportunity for renewal. 

There are five rungs on the ladder: Select, describe, explain, predict and evaluate.  The first two are observations, the last three are interpretations.  Whether it is facilitated by a third party, or by the individuals together or alone depends on the situation. 

(1) SELECT an interaction. A “here we go again” example is good. You know the type: an interaction that has become predictable, where we settle into set roles or positions with the result clear almost from the start.

Dick said, “See Spot! Look at Spot run!” Jane said, “Run, Spot, run!” 

(2) Then DESCRIBE. Who did what. Words and actions both.

Dick directed Jane’s attention to the running dog. Jane looked at it and exclaimed.

Rungs 1 and 2 are factual. No interpretations here please.

(3) “EXPLAIN” is where you record each person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions making transparent the reasons behind the actions.

Because Dick liked Jane and thought that Jane liked dogs, he directed Jane’s attention to his dog Spot when he ran onto the school playground. Because Jane likes Dick as well as dogs, she looked where Dick directed her attention. And because she then saw what she thought was a coyote running after the dog, she feared for the dog’s life. This caused her to exclaim, telling the dog to run.

(4) PREDICT. Given the rungs so far, what did you predict would happen? Few of us think so far. The discipline of matching cause and effect is strengthened. 

By directing Jane’s attention to his dog Spot, Dick makes it more likely that Jane will turn and see Spot. By listening to Dick and turning toward Spot, Jane will be more able to see Spot and the other animal chasing him. This will make it possible for her to do something to try and save Spot’s life. If Dick and Jane continue to interact this way, they will likely continue to be good friends; they may even save a few dogs.

Rungs 3 and 4 can highlight how mistaken inner chatter skews perspective and makes decisions invalid or weak. 

(5) EVALUATE. Did the interaction achieve what was hoped for?  Whether the situation is effective or otherwise depends on the values we use. This rung requires us to make these values transparent helping us to highlight further causes of confusion.

Dick and Jane’s interaction illustrates an effective way of connecting, having fun, and helping out a dog in need.

Okay the example about Dick and Jane (from McLain Smith’s book) is simplistic but its simplicity shows this ladder in action – uncovering the facts, the feelings, the assumptions, expectations and opportunities and hopes.  You can rewrite an example to suit your situation I know.

The ladder provides the interrogation structure. The power comes from the parties opening their minds to the perspective of the other person – the discussion and actions that surround its use are what’s valuable not the perfection of the situation being analysed.

In relationships as in life, there is nothing that is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.   

(*)  Smith, Diana McLain. Elephant in the Room: How Relationships Make or Break the Success of Leaders and Organizations (The Jossey-Bass Business & Management Series). Wiley. Kindle Edition.  

Some earlier posts:
–> Who will you choose
–>Take control of your life
–> Get real
–> Opening the door

Jennifer is a business and executive coach who helps leaders build self awareness and happiness, whilst turning their strategies into remarkable results. To find out how she can help you, call +61 439 520 182 or email.