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Partnership Principles: A guide for leaders, spouses, and business partners

I recently was made aware of a relationship estrangement between two key leaders of a client organization I work with. The estrangement was based mostly on a reluctance of the two leaders to transparently and self-responsibly discuss their differences, needs, and wants in a non-demanding fashion.

The ultimate breakdown in their relationship was hastened by the fact that neither leader had developed clear principles for managing their relationship, and neither was willing to request assistance from a skillful, neutral third party.

Are you clear about the principles that guide your relationship decisions?

Carefully considered principles serve as guideposts for how I want to function both personally and professionally. They are based on a desire to bring my best and most mature self to the relationships that matter most.

Articulating principles is especially important in committed partnerships. Such clarity guards against the tendency to base our reactions on the feelings of the moment, which may be poor barometers for healthy decision-making.

Principled decision-making reduces the impulse to blame the other for problems, or to gossip or “vent” about another to a third party.

Importantly, when behavioral principles are clearly thought through and communicated, it is easier to live by them.

Whether you seek clarity and understanding in a business partnership, a marriage/love relationship, or a strategic alliance, the following principles apply:

1. I want what's best for each of us: win-win.

2. I strive for an open relationship wherein each of us can share our innermost thoughts and feelings without fear of hurting the other.

3. I will work at taking full responsibility for my own thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, viewpoints, and reactions, without blaming you.

4. I will look for my part in any problems or challenges in our relationship.

5. When disturbed or distressed to the point of distraction, I will initiate and maintain open, exploratory conversation with you.

6. Whenever you initiate, I will be approachable and willing to engage.

7. Respect is not the same as agreement. I want my views, wants, and needs to be respected, even when you disagree, and I will grant that same respect to you.

8. I strive to speak from my most genuine self.

9. I accept that compromise is required in any healthy relationship.

10. If a situation becomes too highly charged for us to handle on our own, I agree to seek a third party to help us reach a mutually agreeable solution.

These principles work for me. Sharing them with others holds me accountable for the welfare of any relationship.

If you value such guideposts, I suggest that you come up with your own list of principles, and then post them where you can see them.

You might find it helpful to share your principles with your significant other, work colleagues or staff, even your teen and adult children, and follow up with discussion:

Do the principles make sense to you?

Which are the most difficult for you to live by?

Which do you view as most and least important?

What important principles would you add to this list?

How would you assess our relationship in light of these principles?

It’s important to acknowledge that although there are exceptions to every principle, composing a list like this provides a compass that becomes a sober guide for relationship management, particularly in emotionally intense situations.

Let me know what you think.

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