Have you heard the analogy of a relationship being like a bridge?
I was introduced to this years ago and never paid a lot of attention to it till recently. But as I build more and more meaningful personal and business relationships, it starts to make a whole lot of sense.
It goes like this.
A relationship is a bridge between two people. When things are smooth, when we’re just walking over the bridge, it works fine, but it’s real strength is never tested. It’s when things get rocky, when there’s a dispute, when we jump up and down on the bridge, that the bridge’s strength is really put to the test. And after that rocky time the bridge is left with cracks in it.
Now, we can choose to smooth things over, move on, and just forget about the cracks, or we can choose to repair them, making that part of the bridge stronger.
Ignoring the cracks happens when we say sorry, or make an offer to appease the other party and then continue on as though nothing happened. The problem is that those cracks are still there, and the next time we jump on that bridge, the cracks get bigger, and bigger, and the bridge gets weaker and weaker. Eventually, the cracks become so big the bridge totally gives way and the relationship is over. In a business context, you screwed up one too many times and lost the client. Or the client screwed up too often and you sacked them.
Either way, the relationship is over and you’ve lost the revenue.
The alternative is to fix the cracks. How? Open and honest communication. Talk about what happened. Analyze what went wrong, not to allocate blame but to put systems in place so it doesn’t happen again. This brings you and your client closer together, working as a team to improve their business and the service you provide. It can be hard to start those conversations when you really just want to forget about what happened, but for the long-term good of the relationship, it’s critical to toughen up and do it.
Then guess what happens. The bridge gets stronger every time you repair a crack. So next time you jump on the bridge you have to jump harder before it cracks. And over time it gets stronger, and stronger until no matter how hard you jump on it, the bridge will hold up.
Eventually, you’ll look for ways to jump on the bridge (playing devil’s advocate, deliberately putting systems and campaigns under pressure to see where they break) so you can find ways to make things better. When you get to that point with a client or a supplier, you know you’ve formed an invaluable partnership.
So, now you know why a relationship is like a bridge, you can use that knowledge to build powerful and long-lasting client relationships.
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