It’s Not You. It’s Us.

Relationships are tough.

There’s the understatement, of this, or any, century.

When they’re good, they’re great.

When they’re bad, they’re intolerable.

Yet – we seem to overwhelmingly tolerate bad relationships, even when it’s blatantly obvious that the relationship is uneven, or when it is unhealthy for us, or when we could do much better, by just getting up, and walking away.

Why is that?

It’s because all real relationships are composed of contact, experience, and time.

When a single occurrence of an interaction between two people (or two companies) occurs, it is just a transaction (contact). However, what begins to build relationship between the two parties, is a series of such transactions (experience) over a prolonged period (time).

It’s the way friendship works. It’s the way love works. It’s the way family works.

What makes bad relationships difficult to walk away from, is the sunk cost we have in our experiences, and in the amount of time we devoted to cultivating the relationship.

Let’s bring the conversation back from the touchy-feely, and into the concrete, day-to-day world of vendor relationships.

Why do we put up with bad vendor relationships?

Because we need the vendor. Or we don’t know any better. Or we’re forced to use them by rule or dictate.

But I’m guessing, more likely than not, it’s because we have invested too much time, and emotional investment, in the relationship, to simply walk away.

Your vendors know this. They count on it.

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A wise friend of mine once told me: need never made a good bargain.

If you want to have healthy vendor relationships, you have to be willing to walk away, when the relationship no longer provides more benefit than pain, or when better alternatives outweigh the overall good that the vendor relationship brings.

This is always easier to see from the outside, than it is if you have a personal investment (prestige, standing, ego) in a bad vendor relationship.

Life – and career – is too short to put up with poor service, neglect, and victimization.

You have to be willing to say: It’s not you. It’s us.

Go, and be you.


Transactions, and Relationships

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I think a lot about why I do, what I do.

It’s not terribly complicated – I mean, it is me, after all.

But, when it comes down to it, I think about my work as two very distinct sets of activities: the relational, and the transactional.

Transactional activities are very easy to identify. They’re governed by a hedonistic, quid pro quo calculus of getting maximum benefit, from direct – and immediate – action. I do a job, and get paid for my efforts; I do this – I get that.

Relational activities are much less well-defined, but are orders of magnitude more important to one’s reputation – and opportunity for long-term success. Relational activities are conducted with the knowledge that there is no guaranteed, immediate benefit to be gained by any particular action, or behavior. Think Baker’s Dozen. Or even, these podcasts.

Now consider this: is it better to think about business as strictly transactional, or relational?

The answer is, well, it depends.

If you only want immediate gratification, transactional thinking is definitely the way to go. Amazon and Ebay are built entirely on this model, as is anyone competing solely on price, or convenience.

But – if you want longer term benefit, and something approaching loyalty, you have to put in time, and effort, to construct lasting relationships; building connection through prolonged, intentional contact. Executing. Doing what you say you will do. Reliably, and repeatedly.

It’s a road much less traveled… but oh so highly prized, when you actually run across a relational company in the wild. Nordstroms is one such brand that immediately comes to my mind, as a company that totally “gets” that is more valuable to perhaps lose a little money through a generous returns policy, than it is to lose a customer over a single transaction.

It’s the relationship that is valuable, not the sale.

So: as you go about your day, be mindful; value your actions not solely by the immediate gain you may achieve, now, but by the potential of what might be achieved through a longer, relational view.

Go, and be you.