Business Relationships: More partnership and collaboration, less transaction and contract

Collaborating for the Common good:

All the most positive business relationships are collaborative.

They’re characterised by high levels of co-operation and high levels of assertiveness on both sides.

Rather than seeing the relationship as transactional, it’s a partnership. Both businesses are working together with high levels of trust on a mutually beneficial outcome.

These relationships feel fantastic. Everything’s easy, communication is transparent and you can focus your energy on doing your best work. It doesn’t even feel like business.

The top right-hand corner is exactly where you want to be.

But sometimes, things aren’t so easy.

There are times where the trust in a relationship wanes.

Or perhaps there’s an issue over which you simply cannot see eye to eye.

It no longer feels that you’re working towards a common goal.

Perhaps one side feels that the other side is trying to take advantage of the other, and that it’s no longer genuinely win-win.

There shouldn’t be sides.

This doesn’t feel so great. What was a collaborative relationship becomes fraught with tension. What was so smooth and easy, becomes a little sticky and uncomfortable. Most of us don’t relish conflict – “What? I thought we were friends??”

Maybe it’s that, in this instance, your interests are pulling in entirely different directions. This becomes more challenging. On paper, you know that the ideal relationship is one of collaboration, which is enriching and energising. But it’s no longer happening.

Perhaps both of you are clearly asserting your stance, but you can’t in good conscience co-operate, as it simply doesn’t benefit your business. With high levels of assertive behaviour, and low levels of co-operation, you end up competing.

This can lead to conflict.

And yes, the greedy ego gets involved and wants to be fed. Point-scoring and going for the win can feel extremely satisfying in the short run. However, it will never lead to long term progress. Be careful. We’ve all been there. And when someone seems to be utterly unreasonable, competing with and beating them feels so much more appealing than working with them.

Using your imagination and dropping the ego:

An endless game of “I’m right.” “No, I’m right,” is unhelpful and gets you no-where.

Step one, is to dig deep, use your imagination and genuinely try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. This is most challenging if you suspect that person’s intentions are not pure, or that you feel they are taking advantage.

However, removing your ego (that wants to be right- it’s ok, we all have it!) and genuinely putting yourself in the other person’s shoes may bare fruit. Perhaps you’ve missed something. Perhaps your ego has blinded you to their true perspective.

This leap of imagination, admittedly under challenging circumstances when emotions are high, can lead to incredibly open, productive conversations. They may just save the business relationship. That collaboration may not be over and both of you get to reap the rewards.

I’ll throw another model in for good measure here as it may just help you out massively in these conversations:

Radical Candor:

Arm yourself with the following: Care personally and challenge directly. (Kim Scott)

Perhaps before this conversation there’s been an awful lot of challenging directly and not enough caring personally- not enough empathy. The result is obnoxious aggression. Now, this can get messy, and is wholly unproductive.

If, after this radically candid conversation, you don’t feel that there’s the opportunity to collaborate productively, there is only one thing for it.

Compromise and the dreaded resort to the contract:

Meeting in the middle.

Accepting that neither of you can have it fully your way.

You can no longer fully co-operate in good faith.

Stepping down the level of assertiveness, and finding a mutually acceptable compromise.

I deliberately use “mutually acceptable” over the “mutually beneficial” relationship from collaboration as it is less desirable.

Compromise may sometimes be necessary. We can’t always see eye to eye, for whatever reason.

However, a frequent resort to the details of a contract and heavy compromise spells the end to a positive working relationship. Whether it’s from a lack of trust, or interests that are growing further apart, it’s time to consider whether you should continue doing business. For both of your sakes.

Collaboration, partnership, synergy and trust always beat transaction, contract law, compromise and suspicion.

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.

Martin Luther King Jr

By Chris Wickenden, 11 August, 2019.

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