Today I want to talk about the importance of ownership in relationship. By relationship, I mean all sorts, intimate, business, parental, friendships, even enemies for that matter. By ownership, I mean identifying and communicating the role we play in an event or relationship interaction.
Taking ownership of stuff is hard. That’s the first important point. Nothing, and I mean nothing, in this post is going to make it any easier for you to stand up and say, “Yup, that was mine”. I do hope to remind you that identifying what you want to own and the act of owning is worth the effort and uncomfortable feelings it engenders inside you.
Basically, taking ownership is a fancy way of saying “I admit I was wrong”. I like ownership better. It’s not because it allows us to get away with anything, like not really being wrong. It’s because it’s more accurate and leads to better emotional places when we think of it like that.
When we are just plain wrong, many of us take that personally, feel bad and ashamed and. . .well, wrong. Taking ownership of something is different. It is an action rather than a quality like wrongness. It’s not *scuttle into the corner and feel bad*. It’s more like *oh my that’s my mess let me clean that up*.
Ownership sounds like “I acknowledge that was a mistake and I take responsibility for how that hurt you.” It includes “I’m sorry” but it’s a real sort of I’m sorry. Earlier in this post, I used the phrase “Yup, that was mine.” When you take it and put it where it should be, in your own lap, there is less room for ambiguity. There is a higher likelihood of de-escalation.
Just today, I missed an appointment. I felt horrible. I called, apologized and said it was my mistake. I intended to own the mistake. I was not defensive, I did not make excuses, I did not soften the blow. I did it. Me.
Fortunately, that has only happened 3 times in my 12 year career but every time I’ve treated it like that and every time, the person who was hurt and angry initially, has come to accept, forgive and come back to counselling. I could have made and excuse, blamed the fact I don’t have a secretary, my teenager needed me, I almost never have this happen, blah blah. The person will hear excuses, not reasons. I owned it and that was that.
Some things are harder to own. Things like “I haven’t been there for you lately” or “I disclosed that secret you told me not to disclose” or “I threw you under the bus at the meeting because I was scared for my own project” or “I bad mouthed you in front of the kids”. They are harder because owning them appears to carry more risks than laying low. I can tell you from my side of the consulting room, the math never actually works out in favour of laying low. Even though there is distress and risk in stepping up at appropriate moments, it goes much farther toward solving the real issues and promoting authentic communication. That it is always better in the end.
When we get into the habit of owning things there is another side benefit that develops. We become more aware of consequences of our behaviour and we decrease the number of things we do that require owning of this kind. We start to ask ourselves, what will it be like to have to own this choice? We make better and more empathic decisions because we know what belongs to us and how it impacts others.
So there it is. Now go own your better self.