What A Healthy Relationship Looks Like

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”

C.S. Lewis, British scholar and novelist

While the world’s financial markets have gone up and down … dramatically … for years … it has scared most people.  But in the midst of all that, I noticed that a particular bank, American Federal Bank, remained rock solid.  They brought in … and continue to bring in … great returns for their clients and their employees, year after year after year.  That caught my attention and made me wonder what their secret was. 

When they asked me to speak at their Annual Sales Stars Conference last year, president Steve Worwa and Human Resource Director Marlene Daniels told me their secret.  It was one word: Relationships.

And then a few days ago, that same client, which is located in Minnesota and North Dakota, asked me to speak to all of their employees. Before I spoke, however, Worwa and Daniels addressed the various groups, speaking from their hearts, making it clear that business … their business … or any business … is all about good, healthy, positive, and productive relationships.  When the relationships work, they said, so does everything else.  I couldn’t agree more.

For today’s purposes, let me outline a few things that constitute a good relationship at work or at home.

1. A good relationship is often chosen.

Oh sure, there are ways you can build and improve ANY relationship, but it’s a lot easier if you CHOOSE your relationships carefully.

As my mentor, Dr. Sidney Simon, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, tells me somewhat teasingly, “There are three rules for good relationships.  1. Pick right.   2. Pick right.  3. Pick right.”

Even though Simon likes to be a bit whimsical, he goes on to explain, “Who you spend time with is who you become.”  It’s a fact of life.  Other people … their beliefs, values, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors will rub off on you.

So Mama was right.  You had better choose your friends and associates carefully.  Or as Nido Qubein, president of Highpoint University and the CEO of the Great Harvest Bread Company, points out, “You must pick the right heroes, models, and mentors in life if you expect to go anywhere in life.”

I’ve followed that advice when it comes to relationships.  For 15 years I’ve belonged to a select group of eight world-famous, professional speakers known as Master Speakers International.  We meet for two days … four times a year … to share our best practices.  And as a result, my learning and growth has gone through the roof … not to mention my financial health, emotional health, and work-life balance.

On a personal basis, the same relationship principle applies … “Who you spend time with is who you become.”  That’s why I’ve met with two different men for breakfast almost every week for 20 years.  One of them is a pastor and the other one, a business owner.  We talk about everything and their positive, encouraging, visionary attitudes have rubbed off on me in so many ways.

So when it comes to hiring associates at work or when it comes to spending your free time with others, pick right. 

And then, you’ll know you’re in a healthy relationship when…

2.  You and the other person respect each other.

Of course, the comedian Rodney Dangerfield made his living joking about respect.  He said he knew there wouldn’t be any respect in his marriage; in fact, he knew it on his wedding day when his wife said he couldn’t be in the wedding photographs.  Dangerfield even noted one time that he never slept alone, until he got married.

All kidding aside, when Dangerfield joked about respect, we could all relate on some level.  We all need to feel respected. When you ask employees what they want to get out their jobs, after you get by the obvious answers of pay, security and benefits, the next thing they mention is respect.

Next, you’ll know you’re in a healthy relationship when…

3.  You and the other person value each other’s uniqueness.

You know that the two of you share some things in common, but you also know that you each have some very valuable and unique aspects about yourselves.  That’s great.  If you were both alike in every way, you wouldn’t need the other person in your life.

Eleanor Roosevelt, an American First Lady as well as an Ambassador, said, “Remember always that you have not only the right to be an individual; you have an obligation to be one. You cannot make any useful contribution in life unless you do this.”

Your uniqueness is good for the world and good for your partner … even though your partner’s uniqueness is sometimes challenging.  Nonetheless, when you get to the point of truly VALUING the other person’s uniqueness, the problems of jealousy and possessiveness disappear.

And then you’ll know you’re in a healthy relationship when…

4. You and the other person feel safe.

You feel safe expressing your opinions, knowing that you won’t be put down, judged, or ridiculed … just because your partner has a different opinion.  And you feel safe sharing your feelings, knowing that your partner will do his/her best to understand your feelings without saying “You shouldn’t feel that way.” 

Well, perhaps you shouldn’t feel that way.  Sometimes you make stupid or inaccurate assumptions and end up with the “wrong” feelings as a result.  Nonetheless, in a healthy relationship you still feel safe in sharing your feelings instead of stuffing them until they come out later, usually in a less effective and less appropriate way. 

Bottom line, if your relationship is in good shape, you don’t fear your partner and he/she doesn’t fear you.  In fact, just the opposite takes place.  Both you and your partner’s self-esteem are enhanced by the relationship.   You know how to give and receive feedback appropriately.

You’ll also know you’re in a healthy relationship when…

5.  You both support and encourage each other’s goals and ambitions.

In a healthy relationship, it’s not my way, his way, her way, or the boss’ way.  Every way has some validity.  The partners or the team members realize that different people have different goals, dreams, and ambitions.  And that’s okay, even healthy.  That’s why “diversity training” can be helpful … to not only recognize the differences in people but to tap into the power and wisdom of those differences.

One day a little old couple walked into the local fast food restaurant. The man went up to the counter and ordered their food. He brought back to the table a hamburger, a small amount of fries and a drink.  Carefully he sliced the hamburger in two and then neatly divided the fries into two small piles. He sipped the drink and then passed it to his wife. She took a sip and passed it back.

A younger man at a nearby table observed this couple and began to feel sorry for them. He offered to buy them another meal, but the old man respectfully declined saying that they were used to sharing everything.

The old man began to eat his food while his wife sat still, not eating. The young man continued to watch the old couple feeling there was something he should be doing to help. As the old man finished his half of the burger and fries, the old lady still had not started eating hers.

The young man couldn’t take it anymore. He asked, “Ma’am, why aren’t you eating?” The old lady looked up and politely said, pointing to the old man, “I’m waiting on the teeth.”

You might have the same initial reaction my wife had when I shared this story with her. She laughed and then with a disgusted look on her face said, “Gross!”

But how many times have you fallen into the trap of drawing inaccurate conclusions?  How many times have things turned out to be very different from what they first appeared?  Plenty of times, I’m sure.  That’s why I always advise people to “withhold judgment until comprehension is complete.”

The good-intentioned young man had missed the most important point.  This old couple was supporting and encouraging one another … which are always present in the best of relationships.

Perhaps that’s why Bill Keane, the creator of the “Family Circus” comic strip, said, “A peaceful home is as sacred a place as any chapel or cathedral.” 

You don’t often hear the words love, money, profit, teamwork, relationships, and business success all in the same sentence and in the same context.  But when I listened to the people from American Federal Bank, everybody from new associates to long-term executives, they used those words almost interchangeably.  I think they would agree with sales professional Cullen Hightower who says, “Love is what’s left of a relationship after all the selfishness has been removed.”

Action:  Sit down with an important person in your life with whom you have a relationship.  Go through the five points above and discuss how well you’re doing in each area and decide on one thing you can do to make your relationship even better.