Nonprofit Performance 360 Issue 12

Systems Thinking

The Emotional Side of Partnership ROBERTA GILBERT

Partnerships can be great. They can be mutually uplifting and affirming - when they work. When they don’t, they can cause pain and heartache, or cause the organization to founder. Thoughts and questions from a reader help us to think about the phenomenon of partnership: Two organizations collaborating for a partnership or project is like two families (cultures) going on a trip together or planning a party together. How do we, as leaders, handle discussions of what we know and don’t know about ourselves and the other group? How do we establish systems for conversations about creating guiding principles for the collaboration? Let’s consider trip-ups we may dealing with in partnerships.These, most often, are our emotions. Emotions are the automatic, not-thought-through reactions we get when we perceive that things are going wrong. They are most often directly or indirectly rooted in relationships. A partnership is a two-person relationship. It is unstable because it can get intense. Members often turn to a third person for corroboration when they get to a roadblock. Now we have a triangle. Triangles are more stable, because the anxiety has more traveling room. But the outsider is constantly working to become the insider, so triangles tend to go round and round as to who is on whose side. Triangling really doesn’t solve anything, though it can make one feel better temporarily. Long term, because issues are not addressed, the anxiety prevails.

whatever is needed.This is an essential part of a partnership and where it will most often break down. • Remind myself to listen a lot to the other. • At all times, take an equal posture to the other. I am not over or under him or her. • Try to avoid triangling, conflict, distance, or over- or under-functioning in the relationship. • Remember to ask, “What do you think about…?” Respect what I hear said. • Remember to say what I think only after I have heard the partner’s view. • Keep a calm inner self. • Remember and have faith that, in time, he/she will come up to meet me in maturity if I stay calm within self, connected to the other (emotionally and intellectually), and clear in what I think. None of this is discussed; it is simply lived. It is always helpful to remember that each of us has a functional position derived from those many years we spent in our families of origin. We’re identified as a star, the funny one, the focused one, etc., and we default to one or more of these more often than we think. Understanding our own functional position and that of the partner goes a long way toward understanding what is going on emotionally in the relationship and what can be done to make things better. More of that in a later issue. Dr. Roberta Gilbert is the author of a trilogy of books on leadership:  Extraordinary Leadership ,  The Eight Concepts , and  The Cornerstone Concept . She is the founding director of The Extraordinary Leadership Seminar.

A twosome can, instead of triangling, go into other emotional positions: • Conflict, where the two might face off in anger and accusations, ending in emotional or real blows. • Distance, where they don’t speak, or find it hard to. • Over- or under-functioning, where one dominates the other in decisions and behavior. None of these positions are helpful because calm is not restored. The original anxiety that prompted the position is still present. As long as anxiety is bubbling, the partnership is in trouble. How do we handle self in partnership dilemmas? Notice how this question is framed. Our own self is the only one we have the power to handle or to change for the better. We can never change another person. Getting back to the reader’s questions, how do we think about that task?This isn’t a full exposition, but here are some guidelines. • I am the only one I have the power to change. So I never use the ‘you’ word. • Be or get clear on my own guiding principles for the issue under consideration. • Ask that the partnership have a regular recurring time to meet to discuss

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