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We all naturally gravitate toward people who are like us, people who share our interests, think as we do, or have the same strengths. It even has a name, affinity bias.  Sometimes we even seek to hire or partner with people who are like us under the guise of “fitting within our culture.”  However, I want to challenge you to actively work against this and purposefully build partnerships with those who are different from you and challenge your perspectives.

Differences are advantages and we are better together.

Sometimes, diverse partnerships can cause us to feel like work has slowed down.  You may even think, “If we just did not have these ‘oppositional opinions’ we could just knock this project out!” However, diverse partnerships have been proven to have a greater impact than homogenous twosomes.  Adding people to our partnerships who approach the world differently creates cognitive elaboration.  This is the process of forming associations between new information (what the person who is different from you brings) and prior knowledge (what you bring.  In other words, your shared contributions change attitudes, expand concepts, and improve problem-solving.  What you bring, I don’t.  What I bring, you don’t. Together we’ve got it covered. The more diverse (yet compatible) the partnership, the better.

What creates a successful partnership?

  1.       Respect and appreciate differences. No one is good at everything and leveraging our partner’s strengths and appreciating what they bring to the relationship, adds to our success.  Hearing and respecting alternate perspectives expand how we get the job done.  Put differently, there are many ways to the top of the mountain.
  2.       Ask rather than assume. Different ways of approaching work challenge our thinking.  To make sure we overcome these challenges successfully, approach your partners with humility, listening first then asking thoughtful questions. Expand upon communication by making all expectations explicit to avoid misunderstandings. Additionally, ensure you are on the same page and working towards the same goal by aligning both of your priorities. Lean into summary conversations and recap conversations to ensure a common understanding and to clarify any differences.
  3.       Know your partner’s strengths and your own.  Spend some time getting to know how your partner operates, what they value and how they think.  Do they have their CliftonStrengths®, if so, exchange strengths information and talk through how these strengths play out in each of you.  If not, talk through the areas in which each of you thrives, what others can count on you for, and where you find yourself to be the most successful.  Let them do what they do best and you do what you do best.  Value and appreciate their contributions and help them shine.
  4.       Help your partner eliminate their blind spots and level up in their areas of weakness. A blind spot is a weakness that you or your partner are unaware of. When you see a blind spot or a weakness in your partner, offer them ways to improve their impact while appreciating what’s great about them. Ask yourself where your strengths might be able to fill in the gaps. Have the intention to bring out the best in your partner and be their biggest supporter. Be tactful in how you do this. You’re not their judge or jury. You are their partner and every partnership is a two-way street so be open to hearing about your own blind spots and where you can grow. 
  5.       Be willing to admit when you’ve made a mistake. Admitting you are wrong can be challenging but in a partnership built upon honesty, integrity, and vulnerability this can be achieved.  Admitting you are wrong provides an opportunity to pivot and learn from mistakes, allowing the partnership to grow and thrive.  Mistakes can also be a time to reaffirm your commitment to the partnership and reset your relationship, coming out stronger in the end.  Seek out the opportunity to learn and grow through mistakes.
  6.       When you end a partnership, do so with grace and integrity. We have all heard the saying, “Never burn a bridge.” Creating a win-win end to a partnership allows both people to walk away feeling whole and respected.  Be willing to give some so you can get some. To do this, sit down face-to-face and have a “real” conversation about a mutually beneficial path forward. Good partners create an agreement in the beginning about how the partnership will end if things don’t work out.

Partnerships require a commitment to shared outcomes, explicit expectations, hard work, and regular celebrations.  The start, middle, and end all matter and will impact your results and outcomes.  A good partnership is an investment in another human being. Never take it for granted.

Sara Harvey

Founder & President, innertelligence

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