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Small Business Digest


Dysfunctional Relationships in Business

Although people know that relationships matter in business, most believe that logic, numbers, and facts are what really count.

Relationships, people think, won't get in the way of verifiable data when planning strategies, making decisions, or initiating change. 

"Nothing could be further from the truth," says business advisor and scholar Diana McLain Smith, author of Divide or Conquer:  How Great Teams Turn Conflict Into Strength (Portfolio, June 2008). 

"The data may be straightforward and clear, but how people interpret it is often highly subjective," she says.

When people's goals are exactly the same and differences don't run deep, conflict among team members is easy to resolve. But when dealing with high-stakes issues and hot button topics, people often dig themselves into untenable situations that are impossible to resolve with facts alone.

In her book, Smith shows how catastrophic these situations can be, analyzing the well-known relationship between Steve Jobs and John Sculley, which nearly paralyzed Apple in the 1980s. 

Although this relationship was at first based on mutual admiration, it evolved into one of mutual misunderstanding and animosity. 

Smith dissects the downward spiral and shows how it could have been avoided. 

She then uses examples from her own thirty-year career working with teams and advising top executives to reveal how relationships function, how they can be transformed, and how to create change while still getting things done.

"Given the right tools, it's possible to build relationships flexible and strong enough to sustain stellar performance in teams - both over time and under pressure," Smith explains. 

The biggest roadblock is two-fold:  we expect others to change first and we expect them to change independently of the relationships in which they operate. 

The same is true for teams and even organizations:  we expect them to change independently of the relationships that make them up. 

Smith shows how people can disrupt the patterns of behavior that are getting them into trouble with each other; how they can create new behavioral patterns to accelerate the pace of change; and how to make those patterns stick. 

Each stage gives way to the next, with each creating more significant and lasting change than the one before it.

Of course, none of these changes can be made at the expense of moving a business forward.  An essential feature of the book is Smith's practical tools for initiating change while operating a company at full speed. 

She reveals how to identify strategically critical relationships; how to sequence efforts to create the biggest impact with the least amount of energy; how to strengthen relationships while attending to business; and how to stay motivated enough to make changes over time, since instant change will only last for an instant.

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