Maybe it’s because we all want so much to win — and endings threaten us with losing.
Maybe we’re annoyed that we don’t know how to derive any more mutual benefit from a partnership.
Maybe we’re embarrassed about promises we implied and haven’t kept.
Maybe we’re upset that another didn’t live up to our expectations.
For whatever reasons, when collaborations or partnerships cease to serve us, most of us start jockeying for position, politicking, and blaming our circumstances on our partners.
Sometimes endings even explode into battles. To describe it analytically, we might say that collaborative behavior diminishes — and positioning behavior accelerates — as the outer edge of a contract’s time horizon comes into focus.
No matter how lucrative the venture may have been for both parties, by the time the end actually comes, it’s common for one or both parties to want to get far away from the other. Counselors sometimes describe bad endings this way: We don’t break up because we’re fighting; we fight because we’re breaking up.
I won’t pretend we can do much to avoid endings. They’re as inevitable as beginnings.
But I have observed that we can improve the quality of endings by resisting three emotional traps:
- Unnecessarily burning bridges
- Harming one’s own reputation
- Bringing inhumanity to oneself and others
In my experience, we can expand our responsibility around ending relationships by taking the following actions during endings:
- Approach the end of a collaboration with the beginning in mind — recall the most vivid memory possible of the positive intentions and positive results the partnership produced.
- Thank your partner(s) for the opportunity, results, and trust they provided you.
- Acknowledge BOTH that you don’t see an immediate future that motivates you to continue investing in the relationship AND, that this is NOT a reason for either party to stoop to irresponsible behavior.
- Negotiate fairly and compassionately during the dismantling of infrastructure and the redistribution of responsibilities. Pay your fair share or more of these expenses. If you believe that either party may feel threatened, engage a facilitator to keep you responsible.
- If the other party exhibits difficult end-game behavior, show compassion and strive for resolution by de-escalating rather than escalating.
Want an example?
A long-standing joint-venture practice of a large well-known chemical company has been to always take on just a bit more than their share of the risk when dealing with a smaller/weaker partner.
Why? 1) Because they have deeper pockets and can afford it, so it isn’t really more risk to them. 2) It gives them privileged access to innovative ideas in the marketplace of entrepreneurism and invention.
Why? Because they are viewed as a “fair” partner to deal with when you are small, hungry, and a bit inexperienced.
Get started with this 5-minute stretch exercise
Reflect on one or more relationships that were once great collaborations yet ended poorly or in conflict. Use your imagination to revisit the best time of that collaboration. Now, envision a way to use your sense of ownership to craft a more responsible endgame.
Apply this vision the next time you begin a new collaboration — or relationship. I would love you to leave a comment or share your experience with this practice.
Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or relationship) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.
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