will inevitably be made in the early stages of any
relationship. In a partnership trial performance,
mistakes have only one important consequence:
growth. A rehearsal brings the most likely mis-
takes to the attention of all, creating an opportu-
nity to clarify goals, negotiate agreements, and
review protocols. A rehearsal is a testing ground
for creative interpretation, collaborative discov-
ery, and fine tuning.
Healthy relationships take time for learning
and relationship building. Too often, alliances are
formed prematurely over a quick cup of coffee
and get practiced on the run. Proper relationship
building takes quality time. As an entertainment
industry client of Heather’s puts it:
After you decide you’re going to partner, it’s important
to decide how you will govern or manage the partner-
ship. The really successful partnerships set up the
discipline ahead of time—things like what reports do
we produce each month, how often do we meet, how
do we judge success. . . . Good partnerships are well
managed from the start.
Once the decisions are made about what to do, the part-
nership needs to learn how to do those things well and effec-
tively. This requires the use of relationship tools. We will
outline below three of the tools that we have found crucial in
practicing the dance of partnership: dramatic listening, pro -
ductive dialogue, and giving advice.
Keep in mind that these “how to” tools are effective only
if the “what to dos” have been agreed upon. If the big picture
goals are unclear, if the agreements or cues have not been
negotiated, if feedback is not valued, or if you disagree on the
bedrock basics, all manner of partnership work will be for
Partnering Drill #1:
Dramatic Listening
Most partners can be great
listeners. Let their eight-year-old come crying about a neigh-
borhood conflict, and you’ll see great listening. Zero in on a
quiet corner conversation in the funeral home during the wake
of a friend, and you’ll see great listening.
How do great partners avoid the everyday distractions that
get in the way of dedicated listening? Effective listeners don’t
start doing anything special—they just stop doing something
normal. Dramatic listening has less to do with communication
management than with noise management.
Great partners get focused and stay focused. When listen-
ing is their goal, they make it the priority. When a partner needs
you to listen, pretend you just got a gift of five minutes with
your greatest hero. Think about it! If you could have only ten
minutes with Moses, Mozart, Mother Teresa, or a loved one
who has passed away, would there be anything or anyone who
could intrude on that precious time?
Listening done well is complete absorption. The mission
is to be so crystal clear on the other person’s message that it
becomes a “copy and paste” command from one brain’s com-
puter screen to another’s. Perhaps the expression “meeting of
the minds” should be changed to “joining of the minds.”
When your partner asks, “How would you . . . ?” get her
to tell you what she would do before offering your opinion.
When your partner voices a frustration or concern, before
delivering an answer, try to communicate through your actions
that her message got through, especially when the answer is
likely to be different from the one she thought she was going
to get.
Partnering Drill #2:
Productive Dialogue
Think back on the conversa-
tions you have had that you most valued. Consider the elements
that made those conversations or dialogues positive and pro-
ductive ones. There were probably several: People who valued
each other’s view, even if the views were different. All parties
participating in the give-and-take, listening to each participant
and keeping the dialogue focused. What was the result?
Closure. Issues were resolved, understanding was reached,
learning occurred. These three components—valuing, give-
and-take, and closure—are the basis of fruitful discussions in
great partnerships.

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