Balancing Work and Family: The Art of Diplomacy

balancing work and family Balancing work and home life really can be quite the juggling act. After a long day of managing colleagues and tackling a never-ending to-do list, you arrive home only to spend your evening navigating a maze of family time, household chores and making sure your kids have done their homework.

Yet in the midst of dealing with the insanity (and maybe a frayed nerve or 20), you might just have one of those epiphanies that make you suddenly see what you’re doing wrong and exactly how to fix it. The kind that comes to you when you’re in the middle of something and you feel like Elmer Fudd when the light bulb literally goes off above his head, and suddenly it’s hard to concentrate on what you’re doing in that moment. (For the younger generation, replace Elmer Fudd with Spongebob Squarepants). I had one a few years back – and I think it was one of the most important of my life. I honestly believe it saved my marriage.

The Back Story

As a leader – head of story and director – I always make the best effort I can to keep my crew happy. To make the people who work under my guidance feel appreciated, listened to and feel like they contribute to the creative process of the film. I don’t buy into the ideal of “conflict creates creativity” – all that does is make people unhappy and want to get the project over with as quickly as possible without caring if it’s good or not. It’s surprising how many studio leaders and directors play into that philosophy. Maybe it’s the “get the project over with as quickly as possible” part that they like.

I learned my philosophy from some of the best directors at Disney back in the 80’s and 90’s – John Musker & Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid) and Roger Allers (The Lion King), to name a few. They always made me feel like what I had to say was worth listening to. Whether they ended up using my input or not, I always felt heard, not ignored. They were always respectful and receptive – a lovely combination.

So one day, a few years back, I was having a very challenging time – one of my collaborators was being kind of difficult, and I was doing the best I could to keep the waters calm, trying to listen to what the person was frustrated about – and figure out how I could keep this working relationship going since we had a few years ahead of us to work together on the same film. Although it was challenging, I managed to smooth things out and give this person what he/she needed to feel like he/she was contributing – and being heard. (That person went on to contribute many great things to the film, by the way).

While I was in the middle of that moment, thinking about how hard I was trying to make this work (despite the fact that, yes, sometimes I’d just like to tell them where they can get off and move on)—that’s when I had my epiphany.

The Light Bulb Moment

In that moment, I realized: “Why do I spend so much effort trying to make nice with people that don’t mean as much to me as my family – yet I don’t make the same effort with my family? Am I an idiot?”

Being diplomatic can be really hard, and so I would leave that side of me at work. At home, I’d get impatient. I’d snap at my daughter and my poor husband when things got a little askew. Why couldn’t they see that I’d had a long hard day of holding things together and hold things together for me when I got home? It always annoyed me when my husband would tell me that the people who thought I was so nice had no idea what the real Brenda was like when she got home. And he was absolutely right!

OMG! I’d turned into my mother after all!

So from that epiphany forward, I made the “effort” to use my diplomacy skills at home. And you know what? It didn’t turn out to be hard at all. In fact, it was easier – so much easier! And the reward was seeing how happy I could make my family… and in turn, feeling it come back my way. My husband doesn’t say I’m not the same Brenda anymore – only when he wants to tease me. And that’s okay. I love it when he teases me.

Granted, it doesn’t always work with my almost 13-year-old daughter. My husband and (most of) my colleagues are “reasonable” adults. “Reasonable” is not necessarily a term I’d use for a teenage girl arguing with her mom. She has to come to her own epiphany, I guess.

What is your leadership philosophy? Or what philosophy does your boss seem to use with you? I’m curious – how does it gel with or affect your home life?

Image by geishaboy500 via Creative Commons

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