It Takes Two To Tango

Business today is all about relationships, and every relationship is a double act. Whether it’s with your boss or a colleague, whether it’s with a client or a partner, both parties need to play their part for the relationship to work.

Recently I was involved in a ‘conscious uncoupling’ with a client. The relationship had come about through a third party, and it soon became clear that although we all had the same (or very similar) objectives, the way we wanted to achieve those objectives couldn’t have been more different.

After a few open and professional conversations we resolved the situation amicably. I suggested that maybe I wasn’t the right person for them at this time, and that we could agree upon another contact that would be much better suited to their way of working.

So what makes for a healthy professional relationship?

Simply put — healthy relationships are those in which both parties feel better off because of the relationship, not despite it.

“Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier”

When discussing the health of business relationships I find it useful to have a few criteria to act as a guide, just as you would check your blood pressure, weight, temperature etc when assessing your physical health. Here are 4 areas that you can use to assess the health of your business relationships.

Money: it’s important to accept that business relationships involve money changing hands at some point. Do both parties feel that what they pay/receive (the cost/value ratio) is fair? Are both parties comfortable discussing and reviewing the financial arrangements on a periodic basis?

Communication: if money is the life-blood of business relationships, then communication is the oxygen. Do both parties find it easy to contact each other, and do they respond within mutually agreed time-scales? Do they have similar communication preferences; face-to-face, telephone, or email? Is the communication positive and constructive in both directions?

Alignment: this works at different levels: do both parties share the same long-term goals, vision and values? Also, do they share compatible or complementary ways of working? Is there sufficient common ground to keep the relationship functioning as smoothly as possible?

Trust: this is another two-way process that accrues over time. Do both parties say what they’re going to do, and do what they say — consistently and predictably? Can both parties rely on each other in a range of different situations? Is there an agreed level of loyalty and/or exclusivity that works for both parties?

Whether you use these or other criteria, consider your key business relationships and score them from one to ten in each area; identify where there are areas for development and do something about it!

The benefits of a healthy professional relationship were brought home to me recently when one of my long-standing clients asked ‘are we paying you enough?’ What a wonderful thing to do! It only came about because our working relationship had moved into a new phase since we initially set up our agreement, and she wanted to check it was still working for me. It meant a lot to me that she would recognise the situation and take the initiative to address it.

My grandmother used to say ‘it takes two to tango.’ Whenever one of us was complaining about another family member, she would stress that both parties have their roles to play in making a relationship work. If you both care enough about the relationship, you will find a way to make it work — together.


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