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Power and Respect in Business Relationships

How do relationships affect business profit? Big time! According to Stephen M.R. Covey trust under-girds and affects the quality of every relationship. Trust is in direct proportion to economic success (Covey, 2006). Conflict is inherent in relationships. We encounter conflict at home with family members, in the workplace with customers, vendors, or colleagues and within our community, city and country. Relationships are how we interact with each other. When a relationship is unstable or imbalanced, it can produce and worsen conflict. On the other hand, a balanced relationship helps solidify trust and we can more easily deal with differences. Relationships, then help to create conflict and resolve conflict.

A relationship involves many aspects. We are focusing on two, “power” and “respect”, because they are often triggers in relationship disputes. Power means our ability to make our self or others do what we want in a relationship. Respect is having regard or esteem for oneself or others in a relationship. In most cases, we develop respect and trust for admirable or worthy people, and lose respect and trust for those who we do not value. Within a relationship, power and respect are often interrelated. The degree to which one is respected may impact that person’s ability to influence, motivate or control others.

When discussing the balance of power and respect in a relationship, it is helpful to imagine swinging on a playground a teeter-totter. Visualize one person named POWER and the other named RESPECT.

If POWER is physically or psychologically stronger, POWER may forcefully push down in an openly aggressive manner. This jolt can result in RESPECT feeling devalued and disrespected.

POWER can also be sly by taking advantage of a perceived weakness, or may distract or deceive RESPECT. In this sense, POWER is changing his or her form to being “powerless." A weaker person may attempt to compensate for a lack of physical or spiritual strength by influencing the environment in subtle and deceptive ways, such as manipulation, relying on others for support or creating distractions or trouble. A person who is “powerless” in a relationship and unable or unwilling to openly influence the situation may internalize this power deficit and feel a lack of self-esteem and a disrespect for oneself.

A natural reaction when RESPECT is forced down on the teeter-totter is to push back. As Newton’s third law of physics states, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. How RESPECT utilizes the force to equalize the response is critical. Does RESPECT follow POWER’s negative approach and adopt a disrespect of self or disregard of others. Or can the destructive cycle of applying crushing force be broken?

Imagine being suspended on the teeter-totter equidistance from the ground. Or both persons simultaneously begin a rhythm like a metronome. Do they feel even for a moment a sense of buoyancy and elation? For an instant, they are cooperating, neither taking advantage or overwhelming the other. But it will take trust to sustain these situations and maintain the benefits of this newfound way of doing business.

Now shift to a business relationship you are in. Building confidence and trust in your product or service is essential to your success. A balanced relationship uses power in a constructive and meaningful way and self-respect and respect of others to resolve differences and promote your business. This is called “empowerment." Empowerment means to have access to information, a range of options to make decisions and a self-confidence to change the environment or situation. The principle of empowerment is not reserved for those who are in traditional management or supervisory roles. Often, we encounter a colleague, partner or employee who is trusted and has tremendous influence because of their ability to motivate or lead others in positive ways. Relationship empowerment is a practical and viable way to access the economics of trust.

Covey, S. M. (2006). The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. London: Simon & Schuster.

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