Want to improve your relationship with a business partner? Try this exercise with your negotiation team:
List five adjectives to describe what it is like to work with the other party. Chances are you will produce a list that includes words such as stubborn, frustrating, confrontational, or one-sided. Then ask the team why, if those words are accurate, they would continue doing business with such a difficult party! Maybe they should focus on building a relationship with someone else.
The truth is that parties in a relationship, whether business or personal, will eventually develop negative perceptions of one another. The problem arises when those perceptions overshadow every interaction with the other party such that we wonder why we are together in the first place.
This is the challenge of “persistent perception”. We reach a point where we perceive another party in such a negative light that no matter what they say or do, we only recognize the negative behavior that is consistent with our perception.
Imagine, for example, you join a team and your colleagues tell you to go meet with Marty. “Good luck,” one says. “Marty is a jerk.” You now have a loaded perception seeking confirmation: when will Marty be a jerk to me? And, despite all of Marty’s efforts to be collaborative and positive, when he makes that one unreasonable request you rejoice internally: “JERK!” You return to your team and share with them Marty’s jerk-like behavior, largely dismissing all of his positive behavior.
Time for a change of attitude.
Put together a list of the adjectives you and your team believe the other party would use to describe working with you. Don’t be surprised if it is not terribly different from the one you created describing the other party. Now make a list of the adjectives you would like the other party to use to describe your relationship. Ask your team what needs to change in how they talk to and work with the other party to achieve those adjectives. If your goal is to get the other party to change their behavior, you must change yours. Model the behavior you desire from others. If your team refuses to change their behavior, how can they expect the other party to change theirs?
Change your attitude and you will change the relationship.