Negotiating evolving roles – with ease

Colorful profile outlines of heads in a circleA few days ago, someone in my Facebook group asked how to open a conversation with her daughters about how their roles are changing. She’s getting older, and her daughters are adults.

It’s what happens. Children become adults, and the parental role evolves. Adults grow older, and the children’s role evolves.

It happens in business, too. Newbie employees gain experience, and the manager’s role evolves. Individual contributors are promoted to management, and their role with colleagues – former peers and erstwhile managers – evolves.

And so on.

We’re all constantly evolving our roles with the people in our lives. But we seldom stop to talk about – much less think through – what that actually means and, even more importantly, how we can make it work well instead of just haphazardly.

1. Don’t assume it will “just happen”

My Facebook friend is wise to wonder how to have this conversation, rather than just letting matters drift. Parent-child relationships have deep roots and long-established habits – and those habits often become inappropriate when the child is an adult. (I still remember my mother forbidding me to buy a moped when I was in my 30s!)

2. What do you want?

Before opening the subject with your kids, your partner, your professional colleagues, whomever it may be, stop to really think about what you want. What does “ideal” look like? Given the personalities involved, is that realistic? If not, can you adjust your expectations to be more aligned with reality – and still keep what you want front and center?

3. What does your counterpart want?

This will be speculation, or at best an exercise in informed imagination. Nonetheless, taking a moment to consider what their feelings, thoughts, and desires might be will help you plan your approach.

4. How much emotionality is there?

Are you upset, anxious, concerned, happy, intrigued, curious – or some mixture of all that – about this change in roles?

What about your counterpart?

5. Open the subject

“Things are changing – we’re stepping into different phases of our lives / careers / jobs.” (Choose whichever applies.) “I’d like to see how we can make this an easy and fruitful transition. Can we set a time in the next week or so to sit down and talk about it?”

Whatever words you choose, be prepared for the other person to be surprised, maybe even resistant. Don’t expect them to be ready to jump into the conversation right away. Instead, schedule time on your calendar to meet – and yes, really schedule it, even if it’s with a family member. If it’s not written down, it will tend to slide away into “someday” instead of “now.”

6. Be willing to be surprised

You’ve set your sights on what you want, and that’s a good thing. However, as master negotiator Chris Voss says, “Never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t accept something better.”

In other words, be open to suggestions from your counterpart!

And don’t forget to enjoy the process. You’re having a meaningful conversation with someone important in your life – and that’s worthy of celebration.