Sustainable Relationships at Work and at Home


About 20 years ago, I was visiting one of my mentors, Robert Tannenbaum (RIP). As we engaged in our conversation, a simple to understand model to describe the relationship that exists between employers and employees started to emerge. As we discussed the model further, we came to realize that it was valid for any relationship—boss to subordinate, friend to friend, parent to child, husband to wife, etc. Last week, as I sat in my office, that conversation came to mind. Something about what I see around me in the way most people or most of us deal with the current financial crisis made me bring this model into the present day. I’d like to share this simple model and reflect with you on what it means in our current turbulent times.

In any relationship, there is an exchange between the parties. One party asks and the other party gives. No matter what, there is always an exchange. The balance or the reciprocity defines the quality of the relationship and also the long-term sustainability of it. Four different dynamics of exchange take place:

First: Ask a lot and give little
One of the parties asks a lot but gives little. This means that the party may be going through a crisis or difficulty and requires more from the giving party to maintain stability and viability while the giving party may have a certain amount of resources available to provide and sustain the asking party. This relationship has a short sustainability. The party that gives may feel depleted and resentful from this imbalance and often feels “used” by the asking party.

Second: Ask little, give a lot
The giving party gets a sense of worth and loyalty by excessive giving without requesting much in return from the receiving party. This generates a sense of entitlement with the receiving party who may become disenchanted and angry when the goods stop flowing in their direction. This relationship also has a short sustainability.

Third: Ask little, give little
Both parties are focused on their own needs and requirements without much engagement with each other for support and assistance. The relationship tends to diffuse as the parties have not invested much in one another and there is no accountability for each other’s well being. This relationship has a short sustainability.

Fourth: Ask a lot and give a lot
In this relationship, there is a balance of giving and receiving by both parties. It describes a perfect interdependency that fosters long-term relationships.

Now take a few moments to reflect and ask yourself what kind of a relationship do you have with your friends, husband/wife, children, and at work?  What kind of manager, leader, or supervisor are you working for? Remember, if you feel depleted, resentful, or simply oblivious, you are not in a sustainable relationship.

What kind of organization do you work for? One that asks a lot and gives little? One that asks little and gives a lot? One that asks little and gives little? Or do you work in an organization that asks a lot of you but you also give a lot in return?

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