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End With The Beginning In Mind in Personal and Business Relationships

I don’t know why people seldom end relationships well.

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:

  1. Unnecessarily burning bridges
  2. Harming one’s own reputation
  3. 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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10 Responses to End With The Beginning In Mind in Personal and Business Relationships

  1. Christopher,
    Your post touches on a topic that is ever present and yet rarely addressed. What a great tip you offer everyone — end with the beginning in mind.

    Simple and brilliant.

    I will pass this tip along to so many and send you kudos for such an inventive uplift to what is often a difficult situation.

    Warmest regards,

    • Christopher says:

      Thanks so much Kate. I assume — though maybe I should not, so I’ll state it here — readers note my hat tip to Steven Covey and his “begin with the end in mind” principle.

  2. Great post Christopher. I have experienced others ending relationships poorly and I have been guilty of ending relationships poorly as well. Sage advice. Thanks!

  3. Your blog posts are always wonderful, but this one especially.

    I would add the advice to have the personal discipline to make sure you’re not emotionally flooded when you interact or make large-scale decisions. Ending a business, job, or personal relationship is an emotional roller coaster, but there are “sane” times and “less sane” times. Either wait to stabilize before doing anything big if possible (months if necessary), or at minimum, get your heart rate down for a bit (a matter of minutes you will always be grateful for).

    • Christopher says:

      Getting your heart rate down is smart advice Elena. Thanks for that.
      And about waiting, a lack of communication at such times can further break rapport. If you aren’t ready to deal with everything, at least send a message that you need some time to process and own your thoughts before finalizing the relationship. Suggest a time frame and stick to it, either by following through or asking for another cooling period.

  4. Hi Christopher,

    Such a good point–I definitely wasn’t suggesting prolonged radio silence. Agreed upon timeouts much better! On the other hand, if you can let a little time pass before making large-scale, irrevocable decisions (again with that time frame agreed to by all parties), that’s good to do.

    I have friends who waited for a number of years after a marriage separation to finalize their divorce, just to avoid acting in anger.



    • Christopher says:

      Thanks Elena — this exchange with you about cooling off periods provides a learning opportunity for serious students of the Leadership Gift and perhaps reduce some confusion for others. Serious practitioners will recognize the difference between (1) actively confronting themselves in order to achieve new-found clarity about their role in the relationship and what they really want going forward, and (2) active avoidance by hanging out in the mental position we call “quit.” Avoidance won’t bring you to a position of clarity and readiness and will just add unnecessary waiting time and anxiety. The upside of a cooling off period is the hope and intention that we will confront ourselves and reach some clarity and peaceful resolution — but time is not the necessary ingredient, reflection (i.e., confronting oneself) is. This was a dense description so reading more about the Leadership Gift will help.

      Another useful point is that people change at different rates so in ending a relationship of any kind you may find yourselves at different positions of readiness to achieve closure. This is something worth owning as well — that we choose to partner with humans — wonderful and complex humans.

  5. Great post Christopher. The point that you’re making is so important. People often focus their efforts on the best way to begin a relationship, but rarely think about the RIGHT way to end one. When relationships go south everyone attempts to gain the upper hand. The result is “war.” That being said, “Don’t think every battle has winners and losers…many times there are just losers.” I especially like your five action steps. Well done!



  6. Pingback: 14 Roundup – 7th August 2011 | 14principles

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