How to Lead with Generosity When Your Relationship Is Strained

One of the bedrocks of my personal ethos is to always lead with generosity and offer to be of service whenever I can, without keeping score. I was raised to believe that the more thoughtful and generous you are with your family, friends, coworkers, and teammates, the more open they will be to forging a stronger relationship with you. This doesn’t necessarily mean flowers or gifts or lavish displays. While gifts may be nice to receive, such gestures don’t affect the other person’s success or well-being the way a well-timed introduction or supportive phone call during a difficult time could. All relationships, whether personal or professional, benefit when you first consider the other person’s needs.

With my firm, Ferrazzi Greenlight, I work with clients to help them distinguish their most important business relationships, and I coach them on how to make those relationships stronger. One of the essential tools we use to introduce a level of objectivity and clarity to relationship-building is our Relationship Quality (RQ) Scale, which measures the depth of each important professional relationship and provides a trajectory for making it more valuable to both parties. Every relationship may be unique, but when viewed from a distance, common characteristics emerge. Our RQ Scale (below) is a simple numeric scale that goes from a -1 (strained) to 5 (lifeline). By getting clear on where you stand with each important relationship, it’s far easier to identify specific actions that will help you deepen it (advance its quality).

Start by generously owning your part

One of the most difficult relationship situations, whether personal or professional, occurs when you are in conflict with another person. Even though it can be difficult to take full responsibility for the rift, you’ll be amazed at how powerful a step it is to take. By removing your focus on the other person’s action and turning attention to yourself, you actually free yourself to act.

Set up a quiet time to talk, in person, if possible. Be candid and acknowledge your past behavior and the impact it had on the other person. Something as simple as a sincere and timely apology for, say, being late and leaving the other person waiting, can go a long way to healing a strained relationship. By acknowledging your mistake, you also let the other person know that you value their time as much as your own—that you value them. Next, be prepared to listen. The other person will likely have something interesting to say. Whether or not he or she meets you halfway, remain focused on yourself. Share why you are changing your behavior and what you plan to do differently. Owning your part is especially powerful when you are communicating with a direct report. For example, if you did not follow up on a great idea from your executive assistant, and the window of opportunity closed, having a quick meeting where you accept responsibility for the mistake and hash out a follow-up process that allows the other person some agency in the resolution goes a long way toward putting the relationship back on track. Check in regularly, and create a space where your teammate feels safe and comfortable to discuss any residual issues.

If you are a direct report needing to re-establish a good relationship with your manager, or if the relationship is with a customer, ask permission to try harder and give the other person permission to speak as openly as possible. The path forward is not up to you, so let him or her know that you regret not considering their feelings or opinions and promise to do better in the future. Understand that rebuilding trust will take time and effort, so do your best to act with consistent integrity, but accept that the outcome is not entirely in your hands. Patience is an important component of being generous in a strained relationship.

Regardless of their nature, relationships are living things. They ebb and flow and change with each person, and all of them hit rough patches. How we handle these tough times will determine how long they last. Each relationship requires its own approach, but being of service, whether you are asked or not, is the surest way to increase the depth of what you share. What matters most is that you reach out and be of service thoughtfully, authentically, and with mutual success as your goal. Regardless of where a particular relationship falls on the scale, there is always the opportunity to strengthen it by having the other person’s best interests at heart.


This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. For more from Keith you can follow along on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Image courtesy of Alphacolor 13/Unsplash.

Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi


New York Times best-selling author, speaker

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