Relationships go through a number of stages—honeymoon, power struggle, dead zone, partnership, leadership—of which the fourth and fifth are covered here.
Progress isn’t all one way: we can and do slip and slide back and forth.
Although relationships at work tend to be more muted than personal ones, that doesn’t mean they don’t go through the same stages in the same way and for the same reasons. And, if the following descriptions seem rather flamboyant for the world of work, it is as well to be able to recognise the stages clearly when they do show up in work.
So far, it’s looking a bit gloomy. The most important message is that this is not the end of process. Too many people believe, though, that when the plates start flying, metaphorically if not literally, then the relationship—whether in business or more personally—is over. Ben certainly did in the case study used in the honeymoon stage.
But it’s essential to see the dead zone as not only where people retreat to lick their wounds, but also as a hiding place where people stay rather than take the next step. Although Chuck Spezzano has been known to say, somewhat theatrically, that people would rather die—literally—in the dead zone than take the next step, it’s equally true that many business relationships sail with ease through any minor difficulties which might be described as power struggle or dead zone.
For them the question might be: “if the dead zone and power struggle can be so toxic, how can we make sure we’re in the honeymoon stage as much as possible?”
The partnership stage is where business relationships can get really productive. Immediately, it’s obvious that this is a far more useful place than honeymoon. Honeymoon is about what can each person get from the relationship whereas, in partnership, it’s about how can both people work together for the benefit of whatever enterprise the relationship is engaged upon.
When the people in a business are in partnership relationships, they have a real sense of being part of a team; of seeing others as equals. People are more likely to share and, as that includes communication, people feel more connected and that strengthens the bonds of partnership.
The John Lewis Partnership. Elsewhere, I tell the true story of a client’s experiences trying to buy computers in a well known pc retailer and then in John Lewis. The latter store’s success was down to the attitude of the sales person who was not in competition with his colleagues, who wasn’t reading from a prepared script irrespective of the customer’s needs, and who knew that, legally as well as in actuality, he was a partner not an employee in the business.
However, as with the previous stages, there are traps here too.
This can be summarised as “things are going well here, so maybe I can do even better elsewhere”.
A belief that the business relationship has got nowhere else to go, now that it’s got through all the ‘difficult’ stuff. The mind can con us by providing spuriously plausible reasons (“My time here is over”). But, of course, the logical point is, if you can do better elsewhere, wouldn’t it be easier to do even better where you are?
This is an attitude beloved of serial job-changers. They seem to think the current relationship is over, so they need to move on. In fact, it might be worth exploring if there wasn’t a bit of the old ‘fear of success’ going on.
Commitment means making the relationship more important than anything that comes up in the relationship
This is largely the opposite of temptation: “things are going well here, something really bad is bound to hit us”.
These ‘imaginary’ disasters are really parts of ourselves which threaten to surface, now that a lot of difficulties in the relationship have been cleared up. They might come from failures in previous jobs or businesses that weren’t handled well, either at the time or afterwards. They are not necessarily irrational. Rather, like the story of the fierce lion, it is about anxiety about something that might happen in the future not a instinctive response to something that is happening now.
,,, is to expect the ‘disaster’ and know that you are resourceful enough now to face and overcome it. As Susan Jeffers has said, “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
One good way forward is to commit to the relationship moving into the next stage, leadership. Elsewhere, I advocate that one of four things that set apart leaders from others is their willingness to address issues that come up for them. It’s possible (eg, in the case of Mike) that these issues came up from well before the individual started any form of work. Well, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t affecting the business now.
In the leadership stage, both parties in the relationship see that “making the other person more important than you” is a particularly fruitful way of collaborating, of being in partnership. By having this attitude, of course, they encourage others in the business, or the team, to do the same. By applying this approach uniformly, whether with colleagues, clients or suppliers, they contribute to a cultural shift.
Leaders differentiate themselves from others by their attitude, not their behaviour (though they may behave differently as a result of taking a leadership approach).
A key defining issue for any leader of a team is that, in leadership, they are not looking to other people to meet their needs. This is emphatically not recommending that people revert to the independent attitude that can characterise power struggle. But, demanding that others meet their needs is incompatible with making them more important.
Marion had a notoriously dysfunctional team within a large organisation. Over the course of a number of conversations it became clear that she had set up all sorts of management devices to undermine her own authority. She clearly didn’t like the idea of being an authoritarian, dictating what the team members did; she wanted to be their friend. I pointed out that leadership was an attitude whereas telling people what to do was a role which, while essential, wasn’t a leadership role. I asked her how she got people to do things. Rather than say “do X”, she would say something like “I need you to do X”.
Because leaders do not make demands on others (particularly those in their team) to meet their needs, in using the word “need” she was explicitly telling her staff that she was abrogating her leadership position in order to be their friend. (Actually, there’s no reason why leaders can’t also be friends with those they lead.)
As with all the business relationship stages, there are traps.
A leadership position is one which risks exploiting people for our own ends.
On the whole, Dave was a good leader. As the manager of a team in a large corporate business, he was good at delegation, extending responsibility to others while at the same time being supportive and helpful. However, there were times when it was clear that his first priority was his own position in the business and the extent that he was well regarded by his bosses. This often showed up as inconsistency: as these objectives were to an extent in conflict, so the requirements he made of the team were also, on occasion, contradictory.
In leadership, there is also a fear of failure and humiliation, of not making the grade. Inevitably, the leadership position can feel exposed. But it is important to see that consistently making oneself available to others, being available to others’ calls for help, is the most effective way of ensuring the enterprise on which the team is engaged can thrive.
And, given that we consider leadership is an attitude, everyone in the team can usefully benefit from practising it. So, far from being in an isolated position, the person in charge can benefit from the support of everyone else who are making him/her more important than them.
is to listen to others and respect their contribution. Keep the leadership principle in mind—put other people’s problems ahead of your own—and commit to giving unconditionally without expectations.
This sounds dramatic but, in truth, many problems in business relationships result from old stuff (from business and personal life) which comes up again and again to be dealt with. As you clear out the lesser stuff in earlier stages, so the deepest stuff shows up.
So, Mike realised that things he was doing in the business aged 35,“ I’ve been doing that since I was a small boy”.
Jack saw that the reasons he was controlling at work stemmed from much earlier in his life.
… is to expect that old stuff will come up; to see that it is not the truth about the current business; and know that you are resourceful enough now to face and overcome whatever it is. Use your intuition to find the way forward. And, again, “feel the fear and do it”.
If just one person in a relationship changes, the relationship changes.
If the relationship changes, the other person in the relationship cannot not change. This is a values-neutral observation, of course, and this mechanism can result in a downward spiral as easily as an a upwards spiral. If the relationship is informed by the intention to make the other person more important; if it’s informed by an approach which puts the relationship, the team, and the enterprise it’s engaged upon, before the stuff that might be coming up in it; then the relationship will thrive and grow.
About this model
This model was originally developed by Susan Campbell from original research (see The couple’s journey, 1980).
It was substantially developed by Chuck Spezzano and integrated into his Psychology of vision model of personal development. Chuck’s main contribution was to beef up stage 3 from Campbell’s stability (“the illusion of peace”) to dead zone, and to distinguish the various steps within the power struggle and dead zone stages. The best writeup is in Wholeheartedness (Chuck Spezzano, 2000, pp 25-47), from which this presentation has been derived.
> Stages of a business relationship—summary
> Stages of a work relationship—introduction
> Stages 1 and 2: honeymoon and power struggle
> Stage 3: dead zone
> Perception is projection
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2013 Jeremy Marchant Limited . uploaded 3 august 2013 . image: Free images
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