There’s absolutely no doubt that we can find our ‘opposites’ extremely difficult and that the differences between us can appear huge – they can wear us down, frustrate us and, in extreme cases (especially when they are our boss – I should know, I’ve had one), make our lives a misery.
Many years ago, I was MD of an £8m business here in Dorset. With no previous leadership experience, I managed to pull a team together to help turn the business around, back into profitability, and I enjoyed the experience tremendously. When the family that owned the company then sold it to a much larger enterprise, my life changed.
My new boss had no concept of appreciating me for who I was. His approach was quite simply to try to batter me into a mini version of him. It was only 2 years later when I came across the colour model that I started to understand the dynamic – essentially, his very Cool Blueness was rubbing up against my extreme Sunshine Yellowness in a very negative way. Where I tried to galvanize the team with positivity and a vision for how much greater we could become, he would ridicule my “vacuous words”. When I explained progress against target, he would identify a hole in my argument and seemingly delight in doing so publicly. And the more “Bad Day” Blue he became through his frustration with me, I probably reciprocated with stressed out Yellow, just worsening the relationship.
But we also know that as well as being our “most difficult person”, our Opposite Type can also be our “best ally”. Indeed, I am not the only one who is happily married to or partnered with their ‘opposite’. So, how can we move from the negative to the positive relationship?
Well, there’s no doubt that there are many different answers to that one, on many different levels. On a relatively simple level, I would like to say that the colour model at least goes some way to helping us understand our differences and open up conversations that might help us find better ways of working, or, as I often put it in my workshops, “ways to hack each other off less”.
On a more profound level, meanwhile, relationships with life partners go deeper than mere colours and behaviours. We share the same values, we know each other on a more complete level, the whole person, we build trust and love.
And this is perhaps partly why we are unable to build such relationships with our Opposites at work – we don’t KNOW them. We get stuck on dealing with and judging the external observable mask that is our behaviours, the bits we find difficult. Strip away the mask and we are much more likely to find common ground and thereby reasons to like or at least understand each other. With these foundations, the move to starting to VALUE the DIFFERENCES can more easily be made.
At Stony Brook University in upstate New York, psychology professor Dr. Arthur Aron and his colleagues wanted to know if they could create lab conditions that would make strangers bond and form close friendships after just a few minutes. They arranged volunteers in pairs and gave them a list of 36 questions to ask each other in turn. Within just 60 minutes, respondents typically said they felt unusually close to the other person. In a control group paired up to engage in small-talk, there were no such bonding results.
David Rowan, editor of Wired magazine, recently tried the same experiment with senior executives and entrepreneurs at a large conference in Athens. The results were the same.
Despite the fact we’ve spent the last 28 years together and know each other really well, I tried this with my wife (also my Opposite) and it was an incredibly enjoyable and love-strengthening exercise (although we took 2 hours to get to Question 22!).
So, how does it work? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, the effect is based on gradually escalating reciprocal self-disclosure, breaking down the barriers, and taking your mask off. It may not of course be possible for you to set this up with your difficult person but the principle remains the same – trust can be built by having the strength to be vulnerable with each other.
Here are those 36 questions for you to be able to try out for yourself. Enjoy!
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
- Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
- If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
- Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
- Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
- If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What do you value most in a friendship?
- What is your most treasured memory?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- What does friendship mean to you?
- What roles do love and affection play in your life?
- Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
- How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
- How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
- Make three true “we” statements each. For instance “We are both in this room feeling…”
- Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”
- If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
- Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
- Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
- Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
- If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
- Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
- Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
- Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.