INFocus: Building and Maintaining Healthy Business Relationships

Date: December, 2014 healthy business relationships

In today’s knowledge and service economy, it’s generally accepted that relationships are key; the state of your relationships with business partners, staff, clients or customers, suppliers and others in your stakeholder group defines the success or failure of your business.

Combining the two concepts of health and relationship might result in a definition of a healthy business relationship as one in which two or more parties relate to each other in a way that provides for the well-being and satisfaction of both. How is this state achieved and maintained? I spoke with several colleagues who I consider great relationship builders, and they offered the following:

  • In the best relationships, each party is at least equally attentive to what he or she can give in the relationship as to what he or she can receive. One woman, who is the CEO of a very successful business, always asks what she can do to assist someone when she is establishing a new relationship. She believes that by investing in a new relationship, she is building the foundation for a mutually-trusting and satisfactory long-term relationship.
  • My colleague, who is a senior human resources executive, recommends approaching relationships in a transparent and honest way. Even if the parties are not in agreement on a particular point, engaging in a candid, forthright discussion honors the relationship far more than avoiding the issue. This is especially true when dealing with issues of performance with staff members.
  • A friend, who was a former professional athlete and is now a well-regarded technical coach in his sport, says of relationships between players and coaches: “It’s all about trust. The player on the field has to suspend his or her intention to question a directive when it’s provided during a game situation. This is easy when a coach has the respect of the player, and trusts that he has the team’s best interest at heart.” This sense of trust can be transferred to the business world. There are times that decisions must be made quickly and in the absence of full communication. A relationship built on trust allows for this.
  • I sit on a board with a woman who is of Greek heritage. She shared with me a Greek expression that roughly translates into “everyone has at least one boiling pot on the stove at home.” This expression speaks to the multi-faceted aspects of everyone’s lives. Business colleagues are not simply clients, suppliers or staff members; they are people, with families and personal lives that often impact on how they might deal with you on any given day. You just don’t know what’s boiling in that pot at home. So cut them some slack, when needed.
  • Sometimes relationships run their course. A business contact recently confided that his business partnership was in transition. The duo had built a terrific firm that provided cutting edge leadership in a fast-paced enterprise. It is a business fueled by adrenalin, travel, late nights and long hours. While it worked for both partners for a long period of time, one partner was increasingly unwilling to devote the time required to such an all-encompassing endeavor. The partners mutually acknowledged this. They are now smoothly unwinding their partnership, with respect and very little ego, positioning the reorganized business for the next stage of growth.

Creating and maintaining healthy business relationships is not unlike maintaining a healthy physical being. There must be a conscious commitment to proactive health management, including eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. If things go wrong, prompt attention by a medical professional can often put things right quickly. The same applies to your business health. Working with advisors who proactively look out for the financial health of your business is key. And knowing when to call in the specialists is also part of smart financial management.

Connect with the Author

Susan Hodkinson, BA, Chief Operating Officer, Crowe Soberman LLP

Susan Hodkinson leads the HR Consulting Group and she is the Chief Operating Officer at Crowe Soberman, where she has management responsibility for the operations of the firm, including finance, information technology, human resources, facilities and marketing.

Connect with Susan at: 416.963.7172 or

Specific professional advice should be obtained prior to the implementation of any suggestion contained in this article.

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This article was originally published in the Fall ’14 inFocus Issue.

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