Using Your Head
to Keep Great
Partnerships Great
than passion and purpose, covenant and commit-
ment. Greatness is also the product of method
and discipline, process and action. If we use only
our heads, we cost the dance its richness.
However, if we use only our hearts, we cheat the
dance of relevance. Great dancers and great part-
ners use their heads wisely.
Partnership greatness depends on rational
discipline. Just as solid marriages require more
than devotion, partnerships need the toil of
focused action and the rigor of considerate
attention. The following checklist of partner-
initiated practices can help you sustain a great
Headsmart Tips for
Partnership Greatness
Be the one who initiates email or phone calls,
especially upbeat ones; don’t just return email
or calls after your partner has called.
Go see your partner in person, don’t just call;
call, don’t just write.
Be known for your ideas and recommendations, not
your defenses and justifications.
Use straight, candid language. Save diplomacy for the
press conference.
Until shown otherwise, assume that your partner’s
actions and intentions are honorable.
Use problem-solving “we” language, not judgmental
“you owe me” language.
Litter your meetings with a lot of discussion about
what you (plural) are doing right, rather than dwelling
solely on what you are doing wrong.
Keep differences and conflict in the open, never
hidden. Uncover and discuss interpersonal tension
as soon as you feel it.
Never badmouth your partner. Defend your partner
when others criticize, unless you have overwhelming
evidence to the contrary. Then let the others do
the talking.
Focus on “our collective future,” not a rehash of the
pains or debts of the past.
Partners must affirm
partners. Partnerships
take constant attention
and hard work. Without
affirmation, you risk
taking each other for
granted. As a partnership
gets more automatic and
mature, the more crucial
affirmation becomes.
—Kevin Freiberg,
San Diego Consulting Group
Rather than automatically shifting blame to your
partner, accept responsibility until the two of you can
work out where it belongs.
Approach problems as opportunities and errors as
teaching tools. Celebrate excellence, not just results.
Praise without criticizing—no “yes, but’s.” Be long on
affirmation, short on correction. Correct to improve,
never to prove.
Be clear but succinct in your partnership communi -
cations. Long-winded communications can waste time
and sap energy.
Assume there will be problems and work out ways to
deal with them before they occur. The emergency,
fire-fighting approach can strip partnership of vitality
and trust.
Getting Support
from Others
There is a classic competitive
dance called the quick step. The masters of this exciting dance
are able to combine a waltzlike grace from the waist up with
extraordinarily fast footwork from the waist down. The effect
is the same as being able to watch, first above and then below
the surface, a duck swimming up a stream. The visible “above
water” grace can fool the audience into thinking that the part
they cannot see is functioning smoothly and quietly also.
Partners who keep their trials and tragedies beneath the surface
can be inadvertently denied the external support they may need.
A great dance is rarely performed in an empty hall. The
power of a dance partnership is always influenced by factors on
Good partnerships
need continual mainte-
nance and occasional
calibration. Like a finely
tuned vehicle, if you’re
going to run it hard every
day and depend on it so
intensely, you must treat
it well. My advice is regu-
lar checkup meetings and
strict communications,
to make sure everyone
in the relationship is
—Michael Somers,
Computer Curriculum

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