My parents’ minister wanted to know their secret for staying happily married for over fifty years. He interviewed them for his Valentine’s Day sermon, and shared video clips from the interview with congregants. When I asked my parents what secrets they shared, I realized that their secrets apply not only to a long-lasting marriage, but to long lasting business partnerships and collegial relationships as well. My parents offered three secrets to their long-lasting marriage.
1) Trust each other
2) Fight fair
3) Spend time together
Trust Each Other: Trust is foundational to any relationship. My parents shared banking accounts and told each other how money was spent. Neither of my parents worried that affections could be stolen. And they knew without a doubt that they each were doing their personal best on behalf of our family. These same characteristics exist in business relationships that stand the test of time. Secrets about paychecks, bank account balances, budget allocations, or revenues will undermine trust in a work relationship as quickly as it will harm a marriage. Confidence that a business partner or a colleague is committed to the work relationship, and putting forth their best effort to achieve a shared goal provides the foundation of a trusting, long-lasting relationship.
Fight Fair: “You won’t agree on everything, and you will face tough times,” my Mom said. “It’s how you handle the times that aren’t so sweet that makes the relationship last.” “Fighting fair,” was what she called it. To fight fair my parents openly discussed issues of concern or frustration. They listened to each other. They didn’t take the issues personally. They worked together to solve the problem. To stand the test of time, business relationships need to learn to fight fair as well. Harboring frustrations, perceptions of unfairness, or areas of concern undermines business relationships. Instead of stewing, speak up. Separate the problem from the person. Listen to other perspectives. Ask questions to understand the issue. Work collaboratively to find ways to address the problem. My Mom said it best – there will be tough times. Sometimes my parents didn’t agree on the best approach to solve a problem. If they couldn’t agree on a solution, someone had to win the fight. Over the course of fifty years, they shared the prizefighter honors, and in this way they continue to celebrate anniversaries.
Spend Time Together: Life is busy. Work is demanding. It’s easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day, that time together can easily be over looked. My parents made sure that they made time for each other. Four kids under the age of four, my Dad teaching in another state and working on his doctorate while my Mom worked at a bank, still they made time for each other. My Dad explained that this time together reminded them of how much they enjoyed being around each other, how much they had in common, and gave them a chance to share their dreams of the future. Relationships must be fed if they are to survive, and time is the nutrition relationships require. Go to lunch, celebrate a milestone with a dinner, join a gym, or take a cooking class. It doesn’t matter what you do, the key is that you spend time together to remember how much you appreciate working together, and how much you have to look forward to as the business continues to thrive thanks to the long lasting relationships that form the heart of the organization.