In January of this year, I first met Tinkerbell. At the time, her name wasn’t even Tinkerbell, she was just “Female, black, Chihuahua, stray,” at the animal shelter where I volunteer. After adopting her, I took her to her first vet appointment. The first question they asked was her name, and “Tinkerbell,” came out of my mouth. I have no idea why, I’m not even a real fan of Tinkerbell, but that’s been her name ever since.
Tinkerbell was a quiet, shy, but very friendly little dog. She loved to sit in my lap and be held for hours on end. She only weighed 5 pounds , so you can imagine how tiny she was. She was a very atypical Chihuahua . . . for at least a few weeks. Although she stayed friendly, she started to become a little sassy after settling in at home. She barked and growled at my Doberman Pinscher, hoarded her toys and food, and became very independent, where previously she had been a real lapdog.
I realized pretty quickly that the Honeymoon Period between us was over. Once Tinkerbell settled in and got comfortable with our family, her true personality came out. Where previously she used to love to be held, now I rarely bother to try, because she’s always looking for an escape route so she can go do her own thing. If I wanted her to come to me, previously, I just had to call her. Now, only food will lure her over. Where she used to be meek, mild, and afraid of most things, now she’s the dog I have to go outside and carry in when she’s barking and growling at the possum (an Opossum for you non-Texans) she’s cornered in the side of the yard who is twice her size.
In every relationship, there’s a honeymoon period. There’s the employee who is on his best behavior the first days on a new job, the new wife who cooks a three course gourmet meal every night for her new husband, the new husband who picks up after himself, washes dishes, and walks the dog without being asked, and even the new customer who is totally calm and accommodating right after the first contract is signed. During this honeymoon period, people in relationships are trying to put their best “self” forward. They’re on their best behavior, showing others the personality they think makes the best impression. After awhile though, a person’s true self usually shows itself and it can come as a surprise to those around them.
So how do you survive it when the Honeymoon Period is over?
1. Talk with the other person about the changes.
If an employee who used to be friendly and outgoing with customers now seems withdrawn or disinterested, talk with him about why. It’s possible the employee didn’t anticipate the challenge of dealing with customers, especially angry ones, and is struggling to maintain a positive demeanor. Perhaps he needs customer service training, or needs to role play conversations with difficult customers to practice what to say to keep situations from escalating.
2. Be empathetic.
Step out of your own shoes for a minute and try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Maybe the customer who was calm and understanding at first has had some bad experiences with your organization and is now skeptical or doesn’t trust the promises you make, causing her to be more demanding. Ask questions, identify the other person’s unmet needs and expectations, and show understanding.
3. Take steps to meet the other person’s needs.
Once you understand what the other person needs, take specific steps to meet those needs when you can. Let the other person know exactly what you plan to do to meet those needs and when. If you can’t meet the other person’s needs, then let him or her know as soon as possible and be prepared to offer an alternative. For example, if the employee above didn’t anticipate the number of upset customers he’d have to deal with on a daily basis and he’s unhappy with doing so, can you find another position for the employee where he might be happier and more productive. If not, clearly state so. If you’ve taken steps to help him improve his customer service skills and he’s still unhappy and unable to perform, he might need to find a position somewhere else where he’d be happier.
4. Make your own needs clear.
Just as you’re going to take steps to truly understand the needs of the other person, every person in a relationship has rights and needs. If you’re tired of being the only one in your relationship who takes out the trash and washes dishes, tell the other person you need help. Negotiate job tasks around the house so that everyone is doing their fair share. The same can be done in many situations at work. If you’re tired of picking up the slack for a coworker and feel she isn’t doing her fair share, let her know that you need her to do her part. Be specific about what you need and how she can meet those needs.
5. Adjust to the new reality.
The examples above are ones where the “new reality” isn’t really fair or acceptable, and in those situations, problems need to be addressed. However, there are many cases when the change in a person’s behavior when the honeymoon is over, isn’t wrong, it’s just different. If your spouse used to cook a three-course gourmet meal every night and now all you ever do is get takeout, maybe your spouse will make a gourmet meal two nights a week if you agree to do the shopping and the prep work. Alternatively, maybe it’s time for YOU to learn to cook some gourmet meals.
6. Keep communicating.
Even if you do all of the above and manage to bring back the shine of the Honeymoon Period for awhile, it won’t last, so be prepared to keep communicating about needs and expectations. Communicating regularly is like stoking a fire to keep it going. You have to keep an eye on the situation and take action before the fire goes out, otherwise, it’s going to take a lot to get it going again.
Although it can be rough when the Honeymoon Period is over, if you look on the bright side, at least now you can see other’s true selves, and be your own true self- there’s something to be said about being honest and trusting others enough to show them who you really are. As to Tinkerbell, although she’s not the same dog I thought I took in back in January, we’ve both adjusted to our new reality and I think we each understand what the other’s needs are. Although things are different, I wouldn’t trade her or change her for anything . . . except I might rethink her name and call her “Diva.”
Amy Castro is a workplace and leadership communication expert and speaker. She is also the author of Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done and The Secrets to Effective Leadership Communication: From the Top 10 Leadership Posts of “The Performance Communication Blog,” available on Amazon.com for Kindle.