Partnerships don’t just happen–they require hard work–but done right the results are pure magic.
I want you to take a minute to think about the partnerships in your life, the important ones that you have had or have now. It may be a business partner, a significant other, a spouse, or a dear friend. Now consider why some of those partnership have worked and others have failed. I’m going to speculate that in every case success was a matter of choice in three specific behaviors.
What I have found to be amazingly consistent in every successful partnership, and for that matter in every long term successful relationship, is that there is a unwritten code between two people that forms an almost indestructible bond that allows them to overcome unimaginable odds that threaten to tear them apart. This applies to personal relationships, marriage, friends, and family, and business equally. At the core of that code are three basic rules that govern the behavior of the partners. Take any one of these away and it’s like pulling the leg off of a three legged stool. The good news is that each of these behaviors is a very conscious choice that two people make; behaviors that you can be aware of and work on if you chose to.
Of all the things we value nothing takes more time to build and less time to destroy than trust. In any partnership trust is an ongoing process of both building it and protecting it. But here is where you need to be most careful. Trust requires honesty that may be exceptionally painful for you.
The worst way to betray trust is to put off or avoid sharing something because you fear it has the potential to derail the partnership. You come up with all sorts of rational arguments about how keeping it hidden is better than sharing it. But burying the truth does not make it go away and it seriously discounts your partner’s value. So, how do you build and preserve trust? It always begins by putting yourself in the shoes of your partner and seeing the situation through his or her eyes. How would I want to be treated if I were on the other side of this partnership? How would I feel about not knowing something that is critical to my own wellbeing and success?
“Trust your partner to have the capacity and the willingness to handle the truth.”
Keeping things to yourself which are clearly going to impact your partner is a signal that you do not trust him or her with that information. Partnerships are based on the trust that each person accepts and honors the opinion and view of the other. I’m convinced that this is the number one reason that everything from business partnerships to personal relationships fail; we convince ourselves that our partner does not need to hear the whole story, that we can isolate and filter the truth. That is a black hole from which there is no escape. We are lying not only to our partner but more importantly to ourselves. And the greatest lies we tell are the ones we tell ourselves because these become the foundation on which we build a false reality–a reality which may be comforting since it avoids confrontation, but also one that undermines the partnership in the most destructive way. Trust your partner to have the capacity and the willingness to handle the truth.
Exposing our strengths is easy. We all love to do that, and as far as the world at large is concerned that’s fine. But when it comes to building a strong partnership you have to accept all of the demons that lurk inside of you and be willing to expose them fully to your partner. That’s why I listed Openness instead of the more popular behavior of Communication. Communication just means you present well but necessarily disclose fully.
I recall only about five years into my second businesses I began suffering from a debilitating series of panic attacks. I had no idea what was going on; I felt emotionally and physically drained, incredibly inadequate, and debilitated by them. I could barely function. I was terrified of letting on to anyone what was happening for fear that it would undermine the business and, most of all, the relationship with my partner, Carl, who always seemed upbeat and full of energy.
“Partners accept your fallibility and frailties and protect them because they make a very conscious choice to do so.”
One day I was at the end of my rope and asked Carl to go to lunch with me. I painfully laid it all on the line with him fearful of his response. My vulnerabilities and weaknesses had been exposed; I was naked. Carl looked at me and simply said, without hesitation, “The reason I get up every day to be here, to put all this effort in is because of you. You give me that motivation. So if you need time to work on yourself then take it. Do whatever you have to do. I need you here and I’ll support you in any way that I can.” I was blown away. It dawned on me suddenly that this was not just a business partner talking, it was someone who truly had my back and my best interests in mind and believed in me deeply. That encouragement was worth more than any drug. And it became a benchmark for me in every relationship I’ve had since. Partners accept your fallibility and frailties and protect them because they make a very conscious choice to do so. Simply put they are saying, “You’re worth it.”
Bonnie St. John, a Paralympic one legged slalom skier, and silver medalist, once said of her pinnacle race, in which she lost the gold medal, “I was ahead in the slalom. But in the second run, everyone fell on a dangerous spot. I was beaten by a woman that got up faster than I did. I learned that [all] people fall down, winners get up, and gold medal winners just get up faster.”
“Don’t fall into the illusion that falling down is failure. Failure is not picking each other back up.”
Partnerships fall down. There is no such thing as a partnership that does’t hit patches of ice, some do it very regularly. But what distinguishes a great partnership is not the ability to avoid the ice but to commit to each other that when you hit it you will each do everything within your power to pick the other back up. When you’re not the one who hits that patch it’s beyond tempting to just keep going, even if it means leaving your partner behind. Do that and you leave yourself behind as well. Don’t fall into the illusion that falling down is failure. Failure is not picking each other back up.
In the end successful partnership survive because the partners believe the value of their partnership is worth choosing to survive. Making that conscious choice and dedicating yourself to it, and to each other, every day is the only formula. Through trust, openness, and commitment great partnerships defy the odds and build something neither person could ever have accomplished otherwise.
Your true partners in life are the ones who CHOOSE to take the journey with you, wherever it may lead.
So, what’s your choice?
This article was originally published on Inc.
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.tom