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4 Steps for Building a Partnership With Somebody You Don't Like Dysfunctional relationship drain energy and stifle opportunity. We can't afford not to all get along.

By Gershon Mader Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Relationships are built through communication, and destroyed by the lack thereof. When you have strained relationships in the workplace, your business, team and clients all suffer. There are the four primary steps you must take to heal and transform a dysfunctional relationship into a fruitful partnership.

1. Get on the same page.

To transform a challenging relationship into a genuine partnership, you must both be willing to commit the time, energy and emotion that can make transformation possible.

However, you cannot force others to do this. The commitment must be mutually authentic. In order to get another on the same page, there sometimes needs to be an explicit dialogue about "Why do it?" "What for?" "What's in it for each of us?" and "Why now?".

People often avoid working on their challenging relationships when sticking with the status quo seems easier and more comfortable. But, there is a huge loss associated with challenging relationships. It drains energy to remain upset and dissatisfied in a relationship for a long time. It also causes cynicism and robs both people of their full potential and liveliness.

If the other person is hesitant to work on the relationship, remind them of the negative cost associated with keeping the status quo. Enroll them in the breakthrough.

Without a shared desire to elevate the relationship, you cannot improve or move forward. This step precedes all the others and is a crucial foundation to creating a genuine partnership.

Related: 4 Signs a Relationship Is Failing

2. Clear the air.

To give way to something new, you must first heal any past ailments in the relationship. To do that you must first acknowledge each other's feelings, experiences and baggage.

To be successful in this step, each of you has to listen generously and fully divulge all of your baggage. Don't hold back or cut the conversation short. When you put everything on the table it allows both of you to put the past behind and create a new space of possibility.

It is best to take turns giving each other the chance to put everything on the table without interruption or defensiveness. You should fully express your feelings and experiences, regardless of the facts and truths.

In this stage, each of you should aim to understand and accept how the other person has experienced and felt in the relationship thus far.

Related: How to Deal With Jerks

3. Create a new future.

After clearing the air and emptying the tank, you can explore how you want your relationship to play out going forward. At this stage, express to each other what you want the next level of your relationship to look like. Envision what you both hope to create together. Declare new possibilities and excitement for the future.

This conversation should be free-flowing. Build upon each other and engage in healthy back-and-forth.

Prepare for an interactive and energizing discussion. Aim to become infected and inspired by each other's expressions of "I would really like us to…." "It would be so great if we…." And "What if we did x together…" The energy will spiral upward from the hypotheticals and the possibilities you are co-creating together. The ideal end of this conversation is the mutual feeling of "Where do we go from here with all this great possibility and excitement?"

Related: 25 Tips for Having Meaningful Relationships

4. Take action.

The final step is about cementing the new possibilities you created into reality through specific concrete and clear practices, actions, and rules of engagement that take the relationship to the next level.

It is crucial to avoid vague promises as they leave too much room for confusion, misinterpretations and disappointment. They make it easier to fall back into the old, dysfunctional habits that used to characterize the old relationship. Your promises must be simple, clear and rigorous.

Be simple it is better to commit to fewer actions that you will manage, than to have a list of 20 things and not follow through.

Be clear: make sure both parties agree upon exactly what each promised action means and looks like.

Be rigorous: this is a time of heightened sensitivity, so manage the promises in a rigorous way. If you fall short, take responsibility and get back on track.

As you move toward in your new space as partners, stay true to your intentions and promised actions. It can be easy to slip back into old, unhealthy habits. Continue to be courageous enough to share your feelings and generous enough to listen to your partner as you maintain your partnership after the four steps.

Remember, it may take several conversations to give a relationship a new chance and many more to sustain it. However, if you stick with it, you will be able to transform and elevate any challenging or dysfunctional relationship to a new level of trust, partnership and affinity.

Related: 5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships With Clients

Gershon Mader

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc

 Gershon Mader is founder and president of Quantum Performance Inc, a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations. He also is the co-author of the best-selling business book “The Power of Strategic Commitment.” 

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