As a child, I remember looking into our neighbor’s yard and thinking their grass seemed so much greener than ours. When I asked my Mom about that, she told me, “Their grass just seemed greener. It really wasn’t.”
Well, now I’m an adult and I know better. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But I also know there’s a reason. The people across the street were using better fertilizer than we were. (Actually, we weren’t using any…)
And I find the same principle applies to our relationships both on and off the job. Some organizations do have better teams. Some people do have better marriages. And invariably all those people are doing something to nurture their partnerships.
So what are they doing? And what can you learn from the partnership experts that you can apply to your professional and personal relationships?
1. Realize that partnerships are not static.
Relationships are either getting better or they’re getting worse. They don’t just sit there in limbo.
So if you’re not spending time on your relationships, they will deteriorate. Your feelings of love will go from being excited, to exhausted, to expired. Or as one cynic said, if you’re not careful, you’ll go through the three phases of marriage: lust, rust, and dust.
The same is true at work. If you stop building your team, it will start to disintegrate. If you take your customers for granted, they’ll begin to look elsewhere. You’re either investing in your work relationships or you’re divesting those relationships.
The problem is…
2. Relationships are a lot of work.
I suspect this is the reason why so many relationships fail. Some people just don’t realize how much effort is required. As comedian Rodney Dangerfield said: “We sleep in different rooms. We eat apart. We take separate vacations. We do everything we can to keep our marriage together.“
One of my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary participants Bob Ettinger puts it this way. He says, “Relationships are hard. It’s like a full-time job and we should treat it like one.“
But then he adds: “If your boyfriend or girlfriend wants to leave you, they should give you a two weeks’ notice. There should be severance pay and before they leave you, they should have to find you a temp.“
Of course, Bob is being whimsical, but you get the point. You should take your relationships as seriously as your job and you should work just as hard at it.
Other relationships fail because people don’t know how to work on their relationships. They don’t know what to do or what would work. They don’t realize that they can get by on charm for about fifteen minutes. After that, they’d better know something — about relationships.
So what works? Let me offer a few tidbits from my program on “The Power of Partnership: 7 Keys to Better Relationships and Greater Teamwork.“
3. Acknowledge the awesome significance of relationships.
In other words, remind yourself that nothing is more important than your relationships; not your career, your money, nor your possessions. In fact, if you had everything but relationships, you would soon question the value of life itself.
The actor, Yul Brynner, said it well. He said: “You’re born alone. You die alone. And if you can accept that as total reality, any relationship you have along the way will never be taken for granted and will truly be a gift!“
4. Honor the other person.
Honor is a strange word in our culture. It’s a word that’s not used very often, and is frequently misunderstood. It simply means to place a high value on the other person, to decide that he or she is very, very valuable.
Nothing could be more critical. Dr. John Gottman, at the University of Washington, says, “No relationship skill works without honor.” In fact, through his research, he can now predict with almost 100% accuracy that divorce will occur when spousal honor drops to too low of a level.
You’ve got to honor the people at home and you’ve got to honor the people at work. But remember this. Honor is given to the other person. It is not earned!
Of course, it’s easier to honor some people than others. That’s life. But if you want a strong positive working relationship with someone, you’ve got to give honor to that other person. And one way you do that is to compile a list of all the things you admire about the other person. The longer your list, the more powerful your honor will become.
5. Give to the other person.
Of course, that may sound simplistic and superficial, but it’s not. In actuality, giving is at the heart of every successful relationship and every successful business. When people see you as a giver, they want to work with you.
In a broad sense, give self-esteem. Help the other person to feel better about him or herself. As John Powell says in his book, The Secret of Staying in Love: “The essential gift of love is a sense of personal worth. My love must empower you to love yourself.”
And give without expectation. If you give expecting something in return, you’re sure to be unhappy. If you say “Good morning” to someone, expecting him to respond in kind and he doesn’t, you’ll get all bummed out. You’ll probably be telling yourself, “I knew I shouldn’t have said ‘Good morning’.“
When you give, just make sure it’s because you want to give, not because you’re expecting something in return. As one of the foremost psychiatrists of all time, Alfred Adler said, “All human failure can be attributed to man’s inability to grasp that it is better to give than receive.“
6. Speak words of kindness.
Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” In essence, those kind words keep on giving, and they keep on building your relationships.
The opposite is true, also. I once heard a story about a young student who was talking with a Rabbi. “I understand the commandments like, ‘You shall not steal,’ and, ‘You shall not kill,’ and most of the others,” he said. “But, I do not understand the importance of the commandment that, ‘You shall not slander.’“
The Rabbi responded, “I will be glad to tell you why that commandment is as important as the others if you’ll do one favor for me first. Go and put a goose feather on the doorstep of every house in the village. When that is done, come back, and we will talk.“
The young man looked puzzled, but agreed to do what the Rabbi told him. He left and got a feather pillow, cut it open, and went from door to door placing the feathers on each doorstep. As he walked away from some of the houses, the wind blew up, and the feathers went flying. He chased the feathers down and put them back on the steps as nest he could. After he had been to the doorstep of each house in the village, the student returned to the Rabbi.
“Now can you tell me, Rabbi. Why it is important not to slander another person?“
“I will tell you after you go and pick up all of the feathers,” said the Rabbi.
“I can’t do that,” complained the young man, “the feathers will be all over town!“
“Then you know the answer,” said the Rabbi. “So it is with the reckless words we speak against our neighbors. Those words spread, whether they are true or false, and they can never be taken back.“
Final Thought: If the grass seems greener across the street, they’re probably using better fertilizer. Stop wasting your time gazing at your neighbor’s lawn. Spend more time tending your own lawn. Apply the same truth to all your relationships, as well, and watch them grow.