Jenny Tieman is a licensed marriage and family therapist, with 20 years of experience in counseling from trauma recovery to relationship coaching. She works with families and couples as well as individuals. As a long-time friend who’s observed her impressive results in improving relationships, I thought it would be interesting to apply her expertise to our professional lives – how we manage, how we build relationships with colleagues and clients, and how we can sustain passion and engagement in our own careers.
In Part 1 of this 2-part interview, I asked Jenny why relationship skills are so important for a successful career.
Jenny, can you start by describing your practice?
I work with dyads (groups of two people — for example, a mother-child dyad), couples and larger groups on improving their relationships. Much of it is about creating meaning and strength. People have way more power if they focus on strengths and what’s good, rather than what’s not.
The most common problem I see is that people don’t prioritize each other. Society puts everything else first – like jobs and kids – so relationships and friendships get neglected. People wind up feeling anguish and alienation and that gets expressed in a variety of ways. But the underlying message is the same: “I’ve lost you and I don’t know where you are.”
How does that relate to the workplace?
It’s really not that different. People approach their jobs with a focus on results – whether it’s gunning for a promotion, managing their staff or achieving a certain profit margin. They don’t focus on the people involved, so the relationships suffer and then the business does too.
How does gender play into this? Do you see differences between men and women and their approach to relationships?
Understanding gender roles is the first step; once you’ve recognized how they play out, you can start identifying when and where there’s room for creating shifts in the organization.
A big pattern I see is that men tend to withdraw and avoid confrontation to protect the other person. But women often want to talk it out and make problems better without looking at the root causes. The thing is, focusing on “the solution” is not that simple. What works is space, generosity, compassion and warmth – those things are what transforms relationships. When you actually work on that, change happens and gender roles dissolve. This is true in and out of the workplace.
That’s interesting. So what methodologies do you use to fix relationships?
I take people through an initial assessment, then a values inventory where we talk about what matters most to people. After that we construct a relationship vision, where people look at what they want and what they’d like to see. Then finally we have the stage that some people call grace or gratitude. The terminology may change but it’s about celebrating what makes us feel open and moved. Everyone has different experiences, so it’s important to share them verbally and also express them in some other way, like a photo diary or altar. All of this helps reconnect people who’ve lost sight of themselves and each other.
How can we apply these strategies to improving our professional lives?
Let’s start with managing our own career. Obviously we all experience setbacks at work, but it’s also easy to get overly invested in numbers and minutiae. We lose sight of our mission, the original purpose that inspired us to get this far. A sense of detachment and meaninglessness sets in. Consider the classic stereotype of a mother who devotes her entire adult life to raising children; the kids go to college and she feels lost. I see that in many professionals, who focus so intently on one aspect of the job that they lose all sight of the larger meaning.
That’s a good point. And since we spend so much time at work or thinking about work, feeling disconnected can be the kiss of death.
Exactly. The truth is, we are meaning-making creatures – it’s what drives us forward. Whether it’s recovering from trauma or achieving a certain professional milestone, meaning is the spark in our lives. Too often people think this only applies to personal relationships but it applies to our careers as well. Who innovates and achieves? Passionate people. Anyone who wants to be successful has to figure out how to create beauty and meaning in their professional lives.
This applies to managing others, too. When you have an employee who’s disengaged, the whole team suffers. But what I’ve found is that instilling a sense of meaning can revitalize anyone. When employees are invested in their work, it boosts their morale and even their income because they understand the value of their role. We spend 8 or more hours a day at work; people want to feel there’s a purpose in what they do.
That concludes Part 1 of my interview with Jenny. Check back for Part 2, where we’ll talk about transforming our professional relationships and even our workplaces by reinvigorating our sense of purpose.