Self Help

How to Work with (Almost) Anyone - Michael Bungay Stanier

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Matheus Puppe

· 14 min read
  • The book provides practical, actionable strategies based on research to improve working relationships. The advice is tactical but rooted in wisdom.

  • It’s an engaging, fun read despite covering complex interpersonal topics. The writing makes the concepts accessible.

  • The book contains strategies that can save and transform relationships, careers, and organizations. The advice is universally applicable.

  • It teaches conversational skills to rebuild connections through self-reflection and gaining insights into relating to others.

  • The book simplifies improving connections through starting, nurturing, and sustaining relationships.

  • It provides a framework to approach any conversation more successfully.

  • The tactics help unlock individual and team potential by cultivating key conversations and connections.

  • The book shows how to build strong relationships even during challenging times. It instills confidence in working with anyone.

  • It contains deep insights delivered clearly to build brilliant relationships and prevent stagnation.

  • Overall, the book is praised for its practical framework and advice to actively build the best possible relationships at work through intentional design and management.

Here are a few thoughts on identifying someone for a Best Possible Relationship (BPR):

  • Consider a direct report you’d like to develop a stronger connection with, or a colleague you work closely with where having more understanding could improve your working dynamic.

  • Look for relationships that feel stalled or stagnant - a BPR approach could re-energize them. Or a brand new relationship where you want to set a strong foundation.

  • Reflect on where miscommunications often happen. A BPR builds clarity and shared expectations.

  • Look for people in gatekeeper or influencer roles where bonding over mutual interests and values could generate goodwill.

  • Identify relationships tied to important initiatives where aligning well together matters for outcomes.

  • Think about someone you simply enjoy working with and want to retain - a BPR nourishes those positive connections.

  • Consider relationships where a disconnect leaves you feeling frustrated or them seeming disengaged. A BPR builds bridges.

The key is choosing someone strategically important to your work where taking the time to understand motivations and styles could substantially improve your ability to collaborate. The process strengthens relationships with untapped potential.

Here are a few thoughts on how to approach the Steady Question about your practices and preferences:

  • Think about your daily routines - what time do you like to start/end work, take breaks, have meetings, etc.? What helps you be most productive?

  • Consider how you like to communicate - email, chat, phone calls, in-person? How often/when do you prefer connecting?

  • Reflect on your work style - do you thrive with tight deadlines, ambiguity, collaboration, autonomy? What motivates and stresses you?

  • Identify your pet peeves - what really frustrates or irritates you in a work context? Late meetings, unprepared colleagues, lack of clarity?

  • Note your personality traits - are you introverted or extroverted? Detail-oriented or big picture? Serious or humorous? How does that impact your preferences?

  • Consider how you make decisions - are you data-driven, intuitive, consensus-seeking? What info do you need and how long do you take?

  • Reflect on feedback you’ve received - what have others noticed about your consistent tendencies, good and bad?

  • Look for patterns across roles - what ways of working have been consistent despite changing jobs/teams?

The goal is to identify your steadiest rhythms, tendencies and needs when it comes to how you operate so you can better communicate and honor them. Don’t overthink it - start with what comes to mind and build from there.

  • The book A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson makes science and the world feel more magical and extraordinary. It explains how the large size of the moon stabilized the Earth’s axis, allowing for consistent seasons and agriculture, enabling civilization to develop.

  • Knowing your own practices and preferences and sharing them with a colleague can illuminate where you are similar or different, allowing you to find ways to accommodate each other’s working styles. Things like communication preferences, feedback styles, procrastination habits, etc. are helpful to clarify.

  • Think of a past successful work relationship where you “clicked” and brought out each other’s best. Reflect on what made it successful - what you each said, did, and how you “showed up.” Also consider the role of context and how you handled challenges. There is wisdom to learn from past relationships done well.

  • We often underestimate our own role and overestimate the other’s role in a relationship’s success. Make sure to celebrate what the other person did to make it successful before taking credit for your own contributions.

  • The author recounts a story of how his Dungeons & Dragons team did really well in a tournament one year but then failed miserably the next year after not practicing in between.

  • This illustrates how some working relationships can start off hopeful but then deteriorate over time into frustration and difficulties.

  • To avoid this, it’s important to examine past difficult relationships and learn from them. Look at what you did to contribute to the problems, what the other person did, and what about the context made things challenging.

  • The “Bad Date Question” asks what you can learn from frustrating past relationships. Reflecting on this can provide valuable insights into recurring problematic dynamics to be aware of.

  • It’s also crucial to discuss upfront how you will repair the relationship when things go wrong, which they inevitably will. Proactively identifying strategies for rebuilding connection makes it easier to actually use them when needed.

  • The “Repair Question” asks how you will fix things when they break down. Just discussing this before issues arise makes it more likely you’ll be able to work through problems.

The key is to learn from difficult past experiences, anticipate relationships will hit bumps, and agree on ways to bridge back to a good working connection when challenges emerge.

Here are a few key points I took away from your summary:

  • Humans are relatively new to the planet compared to other species like tortoises, platypuses, and sandhill cranes.

  • A key factor in human survival has been determining if situations are dangerous or not. Our ancestors who explored unknown areas like caves often didn’t survive.

  • The brain continuously evaluates safety using the TERA model - Tribe, Expectation, Rank, Autonomy. Increasing the TERA quotient makes experiences feel safer.

  • The Keystone Conversation can initially feel unsafe or dangerous because it’s unusual and invites vulnerability.

  • It’s important to make the Keystone Conversation feel as safe and “unweird” as possible so both people can fully engage. Ways to do this include setting clear expectations, emphasizing you’re on the same “team”, avoiding power dynamics, and giving autonomy.

Does this capture the key points? Let me know if you would like me to elaborate or summarize any part of it further.

Here is a summary of the main points:

  • Increase the TERA Quotient (Tribe, Expectation, Rank, Autonomy) during the conversation by managing the location, being curious, sharing vulnerability, and giving the other person choices.

  • Be the “strongest signal in the room” by embodying the mood you want to create - joy, confidence, etc. Use your body language and voice to shape the emotional experience.

  • In the middle, ask and answer the 5 key questions without trying to solve or fix anything. Stay curious. Don’t skip the hard questions.

  • At the end, finish on an upbeat note. Ask “What was most useful here for you?” and share your own answer. Confirm it was a useful conversation and set a precedent that your conversations are learning experiences.

Here are some key ideas for orienting yourself when facing challenges in a relationship:

  • Seek to understand before being understood. Listen deeply to the other person’s perspective without judgment.

  • Look for the positive intent behind their words/actions. Assume they are doing their best.

  • Reflect on your own role in the situation. How might you be contributing?

  • Consider broader contexts impacting you both - stress, uncertainty, fatigue, etc.

  • Focus on interests not positions. Identify shared goals and desires.

  • Be curious not critical. Ask open and honest questions.

  • Communicate clearly and kindly. Speak your truth without blame or accusation.

  • Have compassion for yourself and the other. Remember you’re both only human.

  • See conflict as an opportunity to build trust and intimacy, not a reason to attack or disconnect.

  • Be patient and persistent. Work through issues bit by bit. Progress takes time.

The key is to approach challenges with an open mind and heart - to understand, not judge. Seek shared purpose. Repair don’t retaliate. And have faith in your shared commitment to the relationship.

Here are two maintenance questions to help strengthen your best possible relationship:

  1. What’s Working Well?

Regularly asking “What’s working well?” in your relationship highlights the positive and reinforces what’s going right. It builds rapport by focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. Make it a habit to ask this, both in challenging times and when things are smooth.

  1. What’s the Quiet Gesture?

Pay attention to the small, subtle ways you each make bids for connection. Don’t miss the little gifts, adjustments, and gestures offered to keep the relationship vital. And when your bid gets turned down, try again. Keep giving - your persistence and consistency will build trust over time. Look for those quiet gestures from your partner too. Receiving them well strengthens your bond.

The key is balancing celebration of what’s working with gentle honesty about what needs attention. Shine the light on the good, give and receive bids for connection, and you’ll be able to weather the dents and repaint your best possible relationship.

Relationships inevitably experience challenges. To maintain a strong connection, be proactive about identifying and addressing potential issues before they escalate. If conflict emerges, handle it with care - fight fairly, listen generously, and aim for understanding over winning. Sometimes a reset is needed to recover from major clashes or adapt to changed circumstances. Approach resets openly and compassionately. If ending the relationship is necessary, do so with grace and appreciation when possible. Putting in the effort to repair, renew or respectfully release keeps bonds healthy.

Here is a summary of the key points about amplifying your best self in relationships:

  • Knowing and being able to articulate your strengths and best qualities can help you bring more of your gifts to your relationships. However, many people feel uncomfortable directly promoting themselves.

  • Looking at archetypes like the hero, mentor, ally, and shapeshifter can help you identify the roles you naturally gravitate towards and excel at. Consider which archetype you or the other person could most usefully embody.

  • Also examine the energies you naturally exude - like those of the warrior, healer, teacher, or visionary. Are there certain energies you rely on others to provide? Becoming aware of these patterns helps you play to your strengths.

  • Asking a close friend to brag about you can reveal things you may not say about yourself. Friends often see our best qualities clearly. Hearing them articulate what they admire can affirm our gifts.

  • Aiming to shine brightly in a relationship isn’t about ego. It’s about sharing your whole self and bringing your full abilities to make the relationship as rich as possible. When both people know and express their greatest strengths, the relationship is amplified.

Here are a few thoughts on reflecting more deeply on past relationships:

Focus on appreciation - Think about the specific ways the other person showed appreciation and cared for you. How did they make you feel valued and supported? What did you find most meaningful?

Look beneath behaviors - Go beyond the surface actions to understand the underlying motivations, values and intentions behind them. Why did they act as they did? What did it reveal about how they saw you?

Examine your own role - Consider how your own behaviors, needs and insecurities may have shaped the dynamics of the relationship. What did you bring to the situation - positive and negative? How might you approach things differently now?

Understand contexts - Relationships exist within wider environments and circumstances. How did factors like family, work, health or culture influence the relationship? Were there external stressors or supports in play?

Get perspective - Time and distance allow us to see things more objectively. What have you learned in retrospect about the relationship? Are there patterns or lessons that give you new insight?

The goal is expand your understanding of the relationship beyond simple categorizations of “good” or “bad.” Reflection builds self-awareness and helps you bring your best self to future connections. The details reveal our shared humanity.

Here are some common questions about the Bridging method and how to apply it in practice:

  • How long should a Bridging conversation take? There’s no set timeframe, but plan for at least an hour of focused discussion to fully explore the four questions. Be prepared to spread the conversation over multiple sessions if needed.

  • When’s the best time to have a Bridging talk? Choose a time when you’re both relatively calm and free from distractions. Don’t try to bridge when emotions are running high.

  • What if we get stuck on one question? That’s okay! Spend more time unpacking that area. But also consider taking a break and coming back to it.

  • What if we argue during Bridging? Some disagreement is normal, but stay focused on understanding each other, not winning the point. Reflect back what you hear, find common ground, and stay curious.

  • How often should we do Bridging? That depends on the relationship. For newer connections, every few months can be helpful. In closer relationships, yearly or a few times per year can maintain trust.

  • Can we bridge over text/email? While in-person is ideal, written communication can work too. Just take extra care with tone. Follow up on any misinterpretations quickly.

  • What if Bridging seems awkward at first? Push past the initial discomfort. The more you practice having these talks, the more natural they will become. Be patient with yourself and each other.

The key is tailoring the process to your unique situation. With practice, Bridging becomes easier and brings greater connection and understanding over time.

Here are a few key points in summary:

  • Building a “Best Possible Relationship” (BPR) takes work, courage and skill. It gets easier with practice as you learn how to have effective conversations.

  • Dysfunction doesn’t completely go away, but it can be diminished and managed better through the BPR process if both parties invest.

  • The BPR process can work for many but not all relationships. Both people need to want to make it work to some degree.

  • You can start building BPRs early in your career, though it may be easier once you have more experience with different types of work relationships.

  • With difficult people, the BPR process can help close gaps in understanding and bring more self-awareness.

  • Aim for BPR Keystone Conversations to last 10-30 minutes. Look for a shared commitment to maintain the relationship rather than definitive “success.”

  • Resources listed provide helpful insights on self-awareness, relationship dynamics, conflict resolution, and more. The BPR process draws on research in these areas.

  • The key is to keep practicing effective communication and curiosity to strengthen your important relationships. It’s always challenging but gets easier with experience.

Here is a summary of the key points about the two types of change:

There are two main types of change:

  • Easy Change: This is change we can figure out fairly quickly. Examples include learning to use a new phone, starting a new job, or finding a new route to work. Even if challenging at first, with practice we can master Easy Changes.

  • Hard Change: This type of change is more difficult and we often struggle with it. Examples include keeping New Year’s resolutions, improving on long-standing feedback at work, or breaking annoying habits at home. Hard Changes involve ingrained behaviors that are tricky to shift.

The main differences:

  • Easy Change is about learning new skills and behaviors. Hard Change requires unlearning or altering existing habits and patterns.

  • With Easy Change, we need knowledge and practice. Hard Change requires patience, self-awareness, and a deeper type of learning.

  • Easy Change has clear progress markers. We either learned the new skill or we didn’t. Hard Change tends to involve two steps forward and one step back.

  • Easy Change happens over days or weeks. Hard Change takes months or years.

The key distinction is that Easy Change is about gaining something new, while Hard Change means letting go of something old. This makes Hard Change more emotionally and psychologically challenging. But Hard Change is possible with commitment, self-compassion, and support.

Here are a few key points from the chapter on Hard Change and taming your Advice Monster:

  • Taming your Advice Monster requires Hard Change, not just Easy Change. It often involves changing your beliefs, values, roles, relationships - your entire operating system.

  • There is a constant battle between Present You and Future You. Present You wants short-term gains, while Future You wants long-term rewards.

  • Dysfunctional behaviors like advice-giving have an upside - small wins for Present You. But they prevent the bigger wins for Future You.

  • To tame your Advice Monster, you need to choose the bigger, longer-term prizes you want for Future You. This means saying no to some of what’s worked for Present You.

  • Making this Hard Change is challenging but doable. The key is understanding why you engage in the dysfunctional behavior, so you can interrupt the pattern and build new habits.

The main takeaway is that taming your Advice Monster requires more than just insight and commitment. You have to dig deeper and be willing to change your operating system to support your Future You. It’s hard but worthwhile work.

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About Matheus Puppe