The ‘Silent Relationship Killer’​ You’re Likely Guilty of Causing at Work

I was on quite a few flights recently and between the layovers and long travel days, it was inevitable to hear countless babies cry.

It’s easy to become frustrated with the parent for not calming their shrieking child, but at the end of the day, what can you do as the parent? They are stuck holding a baby that needs something but can only communicate through tears. The baby has no idea what they even want — They just know they need something. The parent is left playing a desperate game of trial and error. Cradle their child — Shrieks persist. Pat their back — more tears. Give them their pacifier — BINGO. Crisis averted.

Babies do not ask for their needs to be met, they just expect them to be met. This is what my mentor referred to as a “Passive Rescue Wish.” You internally hope something will be given to you, but you do not actually communicate what you need. It’s like wanting Santa to give you an XBox without actually writing a letter to Santa; and then, still being disappointed when you do not find an XBox under the tree.

Unfortunately, adults do this all the time. We expect, yet we never ask. The result? The result is unmet expectations and built up bitterness. The Independent published an article a couple years back referring to unmet expectations as the ‘silent killer of relationships.’ We desire A, B, and C, yet we never actually communicate this to our boss, our friends and our significant others. At least babies cry, adults tend to just stay silent. Here are two examples of how a passive rescue wish can result in unmet expectations:

Result: Johnny views his boss as “not supportive” and his boss is confused at the suddenness and urgency of the ask.

Result: Suzie views her boss as “out of touch” with the work culture. Her boss becomes confused Suzie does not want to connect.

In both of these cases, it is easy to view the boss in a negative lens as either “not supportive” in Example 1 or “out of touch” in Example 2. Yet, Johnny and Suzie are both guilty of passive rescue wishes. They needed a pacifier, but they were unsure how to communicate their need. So, they each decided to cry with the hope that their boss would respond correctly.

For many millennials like myself, the decision to pursue a “Passive Rescue Wish” makes sense. Previous academic environments were designed to meet our needs rather than force us to ask for our needs to be met. Therefore, it’s often nerve-wracking to communicate our needs. It becomes even more difficult when you consider how most people are unsure what they even want to ask for in the first place, as well as the influence of a western civilization which praises the people that “fake it ’til they make it”. Embracing weaknesses or needs does not align with the stoic, “have-it-all-together” mantra we feel we must have to achieve success in the working world.

Yet, while this makes sense, it comes at a great cost. When we learn to communicate our needs effectively, we can assign the proper task in delegation, we can ask our coworker to communicate a specific way (read more here) for better collaboration, and we can relieve ourselves of built up tension with coworkers in order to better focus on our work and productivity. Asking for our needs to be met is our key to effective delegation, collaboration and production. It breaks down work silos and work tension. It alleviates companies of unmet expectations which so often cripple a company’s culture.

Here’s the thing — it’s easier to just be frustrated and never communicate. Seeking to understand our needs and then inviting others into them is a process which requires boldness. This is something I have personally struggled with during my transition from college to the working world. I’m beginning to realize most of the articles I will likely publish on LinkedIn will serve as a reminder to myself more than anything, and so I sat down and developed a structured approach on how to effectively ask for my needs to be met. This four step plan is something I utilized in college to avoid being a crying baby with “passive rescue wishes”, but instead, an adult who can assess their needs, ask for them to be met, and construct realistic expectations for coworkers, family and friends.

Action plan:

  1. Take a “Needs” Inventory: Remember the shrieking baby? It had no idea what it wanted, it just knew it wanted something. As an adult, you must have your need identified before you can ask for it to be met. So take a moment to assess your needs and expectations. What do you need to flourish? To enjoy work? To feel challenged? To grow? To feel connected? This extends into your personal life as well. List out your needs in one column.
  2. Assign a “Needs Meeter” to each of those needs: People are put in your life to help meet your needs. Simply put, we are better in community. The key here is to make sure it is an appropriate person. For example, if you have a need for quality bonding time, a friend would be a better “Need Meeter” than say, your boss; or, if you have a need to vent about stressful things at work, it is best to choose the trustworthy friend over the one with a tendency to gossip. In a separate column, assign a “needs meeter” to each need you listed in the first column.
  3. Assign a frequency to each need: Is this something you need daily? Weekly? Monthly? Annually? Assigning the frequency can help you better understand the significance of that need, and it can also serve as a filter for what needs are actually just wants. In some cases, you may even find a “need” is something you can meet for yourself. In a third column, assign the frequency.
  4. Communicate your need to that person: Lay out why this is important to you, as well as your expectation for the frequency in which you would like that need to be met. Let the “Need Meeter” know it is okay if they do not think they can meet this need for you. It’s better to know than later find the person unresponsive and unable to help. If the original “Need Meeter” cannot meet your need, just go back to the drawing board and find another “Need Meeter”.

Here’s to implementing this 4 step plan into both of our lives and building relationships that thrive rather than silently die.

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My work primarily focuses on taking pieces of wisdom I learn and sharing it in an actionable way.

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Robert Burns

My work primarily focuses on taking pieces of wisdom I learn and sharing it in an actionable way.