One of my favorite quotes by Gay Hendricks is “All drama is caused by unaligned commitments and unclear and unkept agreements.” I have tested this time and again in my life, and found it to be both true and useful. Because of this I find it helpful in relationships, whether professional or personal, to do periodic alignment checks.
An alignment check is a conversation where two or more people examine whether they are aligned. Alignment means we are headed in the same direction. We are up to the same thing. We can be aligned or unaligned around many things. For example, we can be aligned around our values, beliefs, strategies, tactics and priorities. In his books, Good to Great and Built to Last, Jim Collins documents the value of being aligned based on his research on companies that outperform the stock market.
We want to talk about alignment with our OS, our Operating System. Our Operating System defines how we do what we do, or more exactly, the place from which we do what we do: above the line or below the line. We communicate and live our OS through our commitments. Commitment refers to how our energy is gathered and directed. We can tell how our energy is directed and thus, what our commitments are, by our results.
For this reason an Operating System alignment conversation is a conversation about what it is we are individually and collectively committed to. Our personal and collective OS is a series of statements that begin with “I/we commit to …” Again, commit here does not mean promise, agree, try to, am right that, or anything other than this is what I’m up to as evidenced by my results.
Drama occurs in relationships when the results of my life indicate that I’m committed to one thing and you’re committed to another.
It is this lack of alignment around our Operating System that is the cause of recurring drama. The issue of the drama might change, but the source of the drama, our lack of alignment, will not.
For example, if some members of a team are committed to curiosity and learning and other members are not, they have different operating systems; drama will be the norm. The issue might change: from budgets to HR policies to technology to whom to hire, but the core of the drama is that some are committed to curiosity and learning while others are committed to defending their position and being right.
Parents can be unaligned around the commitment to take responsibility and support others in the family to do the same. This lack of alignment will show up in their parenting again and again, even though the presenting issue might change from homework, to screen time, to sibling rivalry, to drugs and alcohol. Two parents who are unaligned around taking personal responsibility for what’s happening with their kids and supporting the kids to take responsibility will find themselves repeatedly in the drama triangle.
How to have an alignment conversation:
A point of clarification:
We don’t mean to suggest that you’d be above the line with any given commitment 100% of the time. What we mean is that an objective person looking at the results of your life would see that though periodically you may drift from your commitment, it is the predominant way you are living your life.
A. Go to people in your life that you want to be aligned with and say something like this: “Would you be willing to have a conversation with me where we look at our individual commitments and see where we’re aligned and unaligned? I’d like to continue to have a great relationship with you, and periodically assessing our alignment could support that.
B. If they have a “yes” to participating with you in an alignment conversation you could ask them to read this article and give them a list of the 15 commitments.
C. Once you have both done the personal commitment assessment, have a conversation about what it is you believe you are committed to.
A couple of tips:
a. This is a conversation rooted in curiosity, openness, candor and vulnerability.
b. When sharing what you believe your commitments are, be open to feedback about how the other person sees you, specifically how they see the actual results of your life. Remember, your commitment is not what you say you want but what you are actually doing.
D. Make a list of your co-commitments.
These are the commitments you share and are aligned with. This list of co-commitments is the Operating System of your relationship. They are how you will approach the stuff of life.
E. Identify areas of your relationship where you are not aligned.
This is a very valuable part of this exercise. Often people are not aligned in how they are playing the game of life. It is sometimes painful to fully face this lack of alignment, but it is clarifying and potentially liberating. We can agree that we simply have different operating systems when it comes to certain commitments of life. From this place of honesty and clarity we can decide what, if anything, we want to do about this lack of alignment.
One important clarification:
The goal is NOT to be aligned. The goal is to be aware and honest. Don’t try to force yourself or anyone else to have a certain set of commitments. Rather, see what is true, face that and deal with it. Trying to convince others to adopt your Operating System is a form of control. Rather than try to fix or change others, face your desire for control.
F. Periodically revisit your relational OS and recommit to living according to it.
If you find yourself or others consistently not living according to your commitments, e.g. your results/actions do not match your words, ask for an alignment conversation.
G. When conflict arises in the relationship, and it will, check to see what is below the presenting issue.
See if the presenting issue is simply an indicator that you are either not aligned in your relational OS or one or both of you have drifted off of your commitment and it is time to recommit.
Use the 15 Commitments as a reference for having an "Alignment Check-In" in a current relationship.
Explore with a teammate, partner, or friend.