Relationship and Collaboration Killers

Over on our podcast, we recently chatted about competition and how it is a killer of relationships. We wanted to dig deeper into that and to give you some other insights. Here are some things we believe kill relationships and collaboration:

  • Unclear Goals: “Without vision the people will perish.” Without clearly defined goals and expectations a team will fail. Rally your team around the goals. We have a podcast on goal setting coming out in few weeks because we believe it is key in a successful relationship or partnership. You must commit to growing together, not apart.

  • Emotional Immaturity: This includes negative attitudes, but also includes defensiveness, constant anger, lack of forgiveness, being overly opinionated, or arrogance. 

  • Believing the myth that there is no “I” in team. This is about personal responsibility. It is for this question: What can "I" do to make the team or my relationship better.

  • Following the Golden Rule: Don’t treat others or your partner as you want to be treated, treat others as “they” want and need to be treated. It’s not about you; it’s about the relationship. It's is not I Do, its We Do!

  • Lastly, the number one killer of relationships and collaboration is competition. On a team or in a partnership, a desire for personal rather than team accomplishment undermines the team. Never set up competitive situations-team member vs. team member or partner vs partner. All competition should be the team vs. the opposing team. In sports, an attitude of: the team lost but “I” was the game MVP is a recipe for a losing season. Don’t keep score on personal accomplishments!

Let's dig a little deeper into competition since it was the subject of our most recent podcast. The greatest team killer in a long term relationship is the tendency to compete with one's partner and to keep score. It is not so much keeping score that is the problem, it’s that we tend to keep score of all of the negative things and not the positive things. We rarely say: How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Instead we say, I unloaded the dishwasher 5 times this week and you only did it 2 times.

The act of keeping score inhibits your ability to empathize with your partner and threatens to foster resentment in your relationship. Because score-keeping is biased, everyone has a different system they use to catalog what is deemed good or bad. Your partner will poke holes in your argument and come back with what he or she thinks is a superior score. Instead of trying to understand your partner’s feelings or point-of-view, you probably reciprocate by finding flaws in your partner’s argument, and so the cycle continues.

To save our relationships and respect our partners, we need to rewire ourselves, take a step back, and work to get rid of competition from our relationships. Instead of keeping score with a negative lens, try the following:

  1. Acknowledge your partner’s point of view and accept that a difference of opinion does not make you “right” and your partner “wrong”. Do not respond with, “I get what you’re saying….but”. There are no but’s! Listen to and understand your partner’s perspective, and gently correct any misguided assumptions.

  2. When you first notice yourself becoming angry or frustrated, pause the conversation and take a moment to assess your goal in speaking. Is it to:

    • Defend yourself;

    • Criticize your partner;

    • Share your feelings;

    • Try to understand your partner.

  3. When sharing your feelings, be clear and own your perspective. It helps to use “I” statements, like I feel judged when you loudly clean the dishes while I watch TV or I feel under-appreciated when I feel like I have to plan all of our dates.

  4. If you want to make a request for change from your partner, be straightforward with what you need. Skip the part where you might criticize your partner’s normal way of doing things or passive aggressively pointing out something that your partner forgot to do. For example, there is a big difference in how your partner will most likely respond if you say, You never clean the bathroom! vs. Can you please help me with some chores this weekend? Changing habits takes time, and things will go a lot more smoothly if you support your partner and remain clear about what it is you want done differently (and do not forget to tell your partner how much his or her change will mean to you).

  5. If your partner falls into the scorekeeping strategy and begins pointing out things you did not do or did incorrectly (from his or her point-of-view), instead of defending yourself or counterattacking, own up to your transgressions and apologize. Accepting responsibility is an effective antidote to keeping score. It helps your partner cool down and gives both of you an opportunity to reconnect over a source of past resentment.

  6. Remember that it is OKAY keep score of the positive! We all keep score to some degree, and it is impossible to completely turn off this self-protective instinct. However, you owe it to your partner to track the things he or she gives you, some of which are abstract and may be harder to tally, rather than only keeping score of his or her faults and perceived shortcomings. Challenge yourself to change from automatic me-thinking to conscious we-thinking. Heighten your awareness of the positive things your partner brings to your life, and be more active about showing appreciation for those things to your partner. This helps balance the human instinct to focus on the negative, and it increases the positive interactions between romantic partners.

People naturally have different acceptable standards of living and expectations in relationships. It is normal for this to conflict between you and your partner. Do not ignore it and let the problem fester while you feel unacknowledged and resentful. Do not attack your partner and lay out your inner scorecard. Be courageously vulnerable and share your concerns while respectfully asking your partner for help.

Giving up competing with your partner and scorekeeping is not a call to be silent or readily accept poor treatment. It feels bad to feel like you are giving more than you are receiving in your relationship, and if that is your current position, it is helpful to talk about it. It is something that needs to be addressed.

Competition may be a relationship killer, but effective communication can save relationships.