Negative Relationships: Yes or No?

Like you, I'm a small business owner, blessed (or cursed) by the entrepreneurial spirit. Relationships are the backbone of my business.

Positive relationships benefit me. Negative relationships steal my precious resources. Recently I've had more than my share of the negative. As a result, I've had to look more carefully at all my relationships. One thing for sure: I will no longer put up with long term negative relationships.

We all face having to manage relationships. Relationships are what keep our business moving. They are the energy and life force of our business. Relationships are based on communication, of course. All kinds of communication: verbal, written, telephone, e-mail, web, operating systems, etc. I consider Relationships to be one of the key operating systems of a business. We need a way to deal with them so this important system doesn't become disrupted.

Clearly we want to lay the groundwork for each relationship very clearly so expectations are known and agreed upon at the beginning. I have just had to apply my own criteria to a negative relationship I recently faced personally.

My husband and I decided our old car was dying after a valiant 225,000 miles. It made sense for us to apply for a home equity mortgage so we could pay cash for a new Subaru Outback AWD Sedan. So we filed our application the same day we ordered the new car. We were told the loan application process should take 7 - 10 days. That was fine because the new car could take 4 - 6 weeks to come in. Well, the car arrived at the dealership in less than 3 weeks. The loan process dragged on to over 5 weeks.

Not only did this complicated our car arrangements, we were told nothing about what was going on with the loan. Any inquiries sent back vague answers like "we haven't heard" or we didn't get an answer at all. Definitely a non-responsive behavior. We were left on our own to make the best of a messy situation. Our expectations had not been met and attempts at getting answers had been received almost coldly. We will not do business there again.

I wish I'd have been prepared for what we had to face. I bear partial responsibility for not getting more information up front, but to set unrealistic expectations is bound to set up a negative relationship should anything go wrong. There were some important questions they should have asked us so we all would have realistic expectations. We each could have done a better job in establishing this relationship

If we had known the truth we could have made the choice of whether or not to deal with this company and this woman who claimed "we were her customer". It's a negative relationship once, but it won't be twice. The old saying, "once burned, twice shy" definitely applies.

When you let down the other party - for whatever reason, you're setting the stage for a negative relationship. Even existing relationships that were positive in the past can turn negative when there is a big change in communication. When someone cares about you, they make the effort to keep their word or provide a reasonable explanation when they can't.

This was what I call a single interaction negative relationship. We had one interaction and since it was negative, that's the end of the relationship.

The lesson is: take responsibility for your relationships, mend negative ones, wherever possible, and end those which cannot be repaired. To help you keep negative relationships to a minimum, set your own criteria for preventing them, changing them and terminating them. Keep your negative experiences to those you will have with first-time interactions. Hopefully, even those will be fewer in the future with clearer upfront communication.

In the future the guidelines I will use regarding strained relationships are as follows:

- Is there something for each of us to gain in working out the relationship?

- Do we both agree we want our relationship to continue?

- Can we agree on each of our responsibilities?

- Do we agree to contact each other with a reasonable explanation when commitments are in jeopardy.

If any of the above are not met, the relationship will end.

You don't have to bear the loss of time, money and energy that negative relationships can cost. It's up to you to take action to make sure your relationships are positive. You'll enjoy your business more, and find it much more productive, when it's based on positive relationships.


Take a look at your own relationships. This might be a good time to ask yourself: how am I as a relationship partner? Where am I not meeting expectations?

Review your relationships with staff, suppliers, creditors. Plan to address each relationship that is negative in any way. Decide what you'd like to achieve in that relationship. Write it down and decide how you're going to make the change. Don't make it a big project, just do it.


A coach with passion for her work and her clients' success, Marian will inspire and challenge you to find and stay on your right path. She is a seasoned executive, entrepreneur and professional and shares that expertise with her clients. You can count on her as a partner and guide to accelerate the achievement of your goals.

Marian is co-producer and host of the annual Small Business Summit 2006-2009, an all-day conference that brings together small business owners and technology pro...

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