We are family: how to keep it that way

On Thursday, Gibs hosted the second City Press Winning Women Dialogue. The subject was working with your partner and how to turn conflict into cooperation. The panellists were actor, professor and marriage counsellor Jerry Mofokeng; author, mentor and thought leader Wendy Luhabe; and communications guru John French. Fray Intermedia’s Paula Fray facilitated the evening. Gayle Edmunds reports

1 Power dynamics and roles
Mofokeng: “Win or lose, we are a team, but one with different roles. Find out what the DNA of your relationship is. Some might have to go back to ground zero and if you have built on a wonky foundation, be honest about it.”

Luhabe: “Why have you selected each other as partners? Clarify your roles. Also, the superwoman doesn’t exist, the sooner you disabuse yourself
of that notion, the better.”

French: “We all have an ego and it can only be in one of two states: safe or unsafe. When it is unsafe, conflict arises. Understand yours and the other person’s vulnerabilities.”

2 Set boundaries
Mofokeng: “If you think of a business idea at home, write it down and discuss it in the morning – it can wait.”

Luhabe: “Align the roles in the relationship so that you get the best of each party. Set the rules of engagement and decide how you will deal with the worst before it happens. Have the discipline to follow the boundaries you set.”

French: “Set healthy boundaries between your business, home and spiritual lives. Relationships can shrivel and die if there are no boundaries. Use a small ritual that takes you out of work obsession – a walk or cooking together, whatever works.”

3 Ask questions
Mofokeng: “Ask why you are in this team? Whether it’s a marriage or a business – use the same principles to enter into it.”

Luhabe: “Ask ‘what’. What are we going to do and how are we going to do it? You need to start with a shared vision. Ask questions so that you don’t make the wrong assumptions.”

French: “What does each party want out of a business or partnership?”

4 Embrace conflict
Mofokeng: “Tough love is necessary. Sometimes one party isn’t critical enough of the business or partnership.”

Luhabe: “Learn to work with and embrace conflict, not how to avoid it. Always seeking approval limits how we engage. Consider the changes that take place in a relationship as an invitation to get to know someone differently.”

French: “See how you can turn a conflict situation into one where you again become allies and find in each other an adviser to strengthen the family or business.”

5 Sensitive conversations
Mofokeng: “You are not threatening your partner – they are feeling threatened. When someone acts in fear, their behaviour is off compass. Be generous and help them to find true north.”

Luhabe: “Sometimes it is tempting to keep having business discussions to avoid personal ones. The important criteria for working with other people is communication, yet at no time in our school career are we taught how to do it.”

French: “These conversations need to be had. The more you procrastinate, the worse the problem gets. Use the sandwich approach – go in with something soft and positive, then deal with the hard stuff and finish on a positive. With any crisis, don’t react. Step back and look at it logically and practically. Be proactive, not reactive.”

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