There are at least two ways to view the people with whom you work, live, and associate. One end of that spectrum is to think that every engagement point with somebody is a transaction, which may, or more likely may not, be repeated. Think of it as the one-off date mindset. The other end of the spectrum is to think that each engagement is merely one step of many, and that how things work at Step A informs and influences what happens at Step B – the relationship mindset.
The former is the “short term” approach: either you or the person with whom you’re dealing won’t really care how you interact, or the likelihood of a repeat deal (or date) is low so it won’t matter, or people’s memories fade quickly so people won’t remember, etc. Business dealings become a series of one-offs that really don’t matter much.
The other, to crib a line from my friend Wendy Yanowitch, is to view life as being made up of six people with lots of mirrors; that what you do matters because it’s highly likely you’ll work together again, or you’ll engage with people within that small circle and they’ll know and care how you’ve behaved previously.
Is there a “right” or “wrong” approach? Perhaps.
The moral side – the folks who talk in terms of shoulds, musts, and oughts – will suggest that even if you will never see a person again there is a right way of behaving. It’s the Christian Golden Rule and Confucian Silver Rule standard: that there is karmic reciprocity involved in how we behave and there is a moral guideline that we should all follow.
A second thought, in the time of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google as a verb, is that what you do sticks. While you can behave badly, the days when no one else will know are gone. What you do is history, recorded in the Library of Congress’ archived Twitter stream or in someone’s YouTube rant.
A last thought that building relationships is really what life – and business – is all about. It’s the approach that suggests that if you do good, reciprocally advantageous work with others that it will advance all parties interests. It’s an approach that suggests that doing right, and doing good are things that benefit everyone.
My take? I come down on the side of looking at things as a steady relationship: it’s one of those times were the right thing to do just happens to be the smart thing to do as well. And if you look around at the businesses and people who have been consistently successful over the span of longer time – Ron Conway comes to mind – it’s viewing things as enduring relationships that frequently marks their approach.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.