CTO Studio: Jeff Miller on Relationships

7CTO founder Etienne de Bruin welcomes Jeff Miller back into the 7CTO Studio to discuss relationships. The last time Jeff was in the studio, Etienne and Jeff talked about curiosity as a mindset. Etienne decided to bring Jeff back to further break down curiosity, but this time, to discuss curiosity within relationships or partnerships.

How does Curiosity impact interpersonal relationships? Jeff explains it is a matter of “doing curiosity” versus “being curiosity.” Doing curiosity is checking the boxes and participating in surface-level questions and interactions. Being curiosity is when we come from an authentic and genuine place, asking original questions that cultivate connection and build relationship foundations. Being curious is when you fully immerse yourself into curiosity versus robotically going through the motions of curiosity.

From a coaching perspective, what are the crucial aspects of building healthy relationships? From Jeff’s expertise, it comes down to willingness. How willing are both parties to start and maintain a relationship, and at what level? Jeff believes it’s essential to get clear on how each person likes to receive information. Is it through email, voice text, phone calls, or meeting in person? It’s crucial to figure out how each person values receiving information to create a container where you can meet from which the relationship can flourish. 

Next, think about what both parties want this relationship to look like and create a roadmap for the future. Suppose both parties claim ownership and commitment to the relationship and maintain clarity, trust, healthy boundaries, and intention. In that case, the relationship will naturally grow and thrive in a positive and mutually fulfilling way. Jeff indicates the emphasis, however, should be placed on the clarity piece. We all have friends at different levels to fulfill other purposes. We have five minutes friends, five-hour friends, weekend friends, and long-term relationships, for example. Most of us would not want to go away on vacation with our five-minute friend as there is a different level of intimacy when comparing a lifelong friend to a five-minute friend that you see once a week. 

There can be difficulties in creating boundaries and clarifying how such relationships are supposed to look. Blurring the boundary between business and friendship can get messy in the professional world. Jeff emphasizes that clarity and healthy boundaries are essential for any relationship to grow and flourish.  When using the example of corporate happy hours, although they can open the door for more engagement, at the same time, they can also open the door for extra blurriness. It doesn’t mean this event needs avoidance altogether; however, it’s essential to have clear boundaries, keep it clean, avoid gossip, and stay autonomous.

When it comes to colleagues, direct reports, and departmental goals, there is a requirement to feel safe, and there needs to be a willingness to clarify the container and its boundaries. However, there also needs to be a recognition that we all have feelings as humans. The elephant in the room is that people will inevitably get triggered, upset, angry, and frustrated. It’s bound to happen. And how do we navigate this? 

If we have an ecosystem with transparency and meet people where they’re at, even if they aren’t super polished, we’ll see conflicts get resolved positively, build relationships, and strengthen existing relationships. Jeff’s coaching background reveals that when someone doesn’t feel safe enough to say something bothering them and instead buries it,  they will inevitably become resentful. This negativity will spread like a virus and penetrate other teams in a negative way. 

Jeff explains that the executive and leadership teams are coaches in their way. Leadership should take on the responsibility of employees not feeling safe, feeling stressed, or feeling unappreciated. When looking at relationship deconstruction, there needs to be a mutual willingness to connect and stay engaged. A great way to do this, according to Jeff, is participating in daily check-ins. The check-in is for both parties within the relationship. Before checking in on others, it’s essential to check in with oneself first. How am I in terms of relationship building? How am I showing up within this relationship? How am I showing up for myself and those around me that need me? 

So how does one navigate this correctly from a leadership standpoint? How can we check in with ourselves and check in on our willingness the best way possible? Jeff explains that if we are overly consumed with being perfect, how can we model the safe, vulnerable, clean-up culture that we are trying to cultivate? As a leader, if employees see you messing up but being vulnerable about it, they will sense that you are opening the door for more transparency and trust. 

Building relationships is not an exact science, and we aren’t building a machine. Etienne explains that this idea of perfection is the enemy of the technology industry.  Within the tech industry, everything is likened to machines. We are constantly barraged with the need to test efficiency, thus spilling into our relationships, almost machine-like and robotic-like. 

If the intention is to get work done and have positive relationships, how can we create this culture? Again, it goes back to willingness. If we are too busy, our willingness to engage is at an all-time low. We shouldn’t be surprised if situations don’t go as planned if we don’t have the willingness to give our time and energy to relationships and projects th