Everybody seems to be talking about partnership these days. There are funder partners and organizational partners and strategic partners and sector partners. We in the social benefit business love to use the word “partnership.” Even here at Rockwood, partnership is one of our practices. We value it deeply.
It can be easy to partner with people who are like us, who share a similar worldview, value system, or way of doing things. It is much more challenging to be in relationship with folks who see things from diametrically opposed points of view. Here’s the conundrum: what if we don’t actually like the person we’re expected to partner with?
Years ago, in deepening my own partnership practice, I decided to take on George W. Bush as my spiritual brother. At the time, he seemed like the most challenging person I could envision to “partner” with. I imagined having dinner and conversation with him. I imagined him as a boy — perhaps someone I grew up with. As my imagined relationship with him grew, I noticed that my propensity to reject, disdain and belittle him diminished.
I began to see George as a human among humans, a person doing what he saw as his piece in the world. While this “partnering practice” was never easy, it softened some of my anger and outrage based on the choices he made. This in turn, allowed me to be more spacious, mindful and resilient in how I responded to his actions and policies. It was liberating for me, and I became much more effective. I offer this as an extreme example, but this practice can be used closer to home.
A couple years ago, I met someone whose worldview and approach were very much in alignment with mine – we had much in common. Despite the fact that we were so aligned, I could not stand this person. Every time they opened their mouth, I got triggered and wanted to run screaming from the room. Nonetheless, we had some important work to do together, and I knew that I had a responsibility to shift in order to make our work possible.
I called on my Rockwood tools—meshing and authentic communications. I even called on my practice with George! I imagined myself in relationship to this person over time. I imagined us having dinner conversations and growing up together. Again, it shifted my capacity to engage with much less rancor. It created space for me to step out of momentary frustration and impatience, and to take a larger view of what might be possible between us. Even today, there are moments where I want to tear my hair out when we are in a meeting together, but I know that that’s just a trick of my mind, a story I tell myself about who this person is. When I create more spaciousness for me and for them, I can go back to the essential work we have to do — together as partners.
Do we have to like each another to be good partners? Honestly, it helps.
While it may ease things, if liking someone is criteria for partnership, we’ll be quite limited in our work toward a just and equitable world. So my request is this: let’s create more space both for ourselves and for those who challenge us. We’ll need every single one of us if we’re going to make deep and lasting change.
From my heart to yours.
Flickr photo credit: Face off 2 by Sandy Shultz