What can politics teach us about how to develop long-term relationships?

I wrote this immediately after the election, meaning to post it straight away, but life being the way it is, its taken me this long to set up a blog site!

So here goes!

The past 2 weeks in politics has been the best drama on TV this year!  Seeing Nick Clegg and David Cameron shake hands on the steps of No.10 reminded me of many a pitch winning situations I have been involved in during my advertising career.

So what could we possibly learn from this new era in UK politics that would help in building agency/client relationships?

It’s early days yet, but the teams are applying many of the key principles of strong relationships:

1) Having a higher ‘purpose’ – Clegg and Cameron often talked about building alliances to “create a strong, stable government, equipped to tackle the major issues facing the country at this time”.  When differences occur (as they inevitably will) having a shared higher-level goal means both parties are ultimately aligned and can therefore find a workable solution.

2) Clarity over expectations from both sides- David Cameron was very astute when he said “I want to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats”. He then went on to outline all the key areas of shared agenda (but was also clear what was not up for grabs).

3) Discuss Discuss, Discuss – Even with extreme pressure from the press, Nick Clegg doggedly persevered in his quest for substantive discussions before agreeing to any coalition.

Coalition government forces discussion (rather than using a majority to railroad through some ill thought through programme).  Different points of view are healthy and should be encouraged (as long as one sticks to the issues and not let emotions cloud them) – creativity after all is often born from conflict of differences.

4) Maintain trust – Trust is the cornerstone of every relationship. David Cameron said he was hoping for an “open and trusting partnership.”  And the Lib Dems almost blew it when they started speaking to Labour.  As with all relationships, the second trust is lost, the relationship is doomed.

The interesting issue is that trust is not necessarily lost through making a mistake (we are all human after all), but more from how one acts about a mistake.  What partly ‘sunk ‘Brown was not his “bigot” comment, but more his attempt to blame others – how can one trust anyone who does not take responsibility of their actions?

5) Plan for problems – It did not take more than 24 hours before the press seized on differences and potential in-fighting between the two parties.  It’s inevitable that any relationship will go through difficult periods. Thus it was pleasing to hear the Mandarins are already working on developing a process now to deal with any conflicts later on.

At some point this coalition has to unpick itself due to their differing identity and values but for the sake of the country we all need to hope it stays together for as long as possible.

Paul Arnold is a consultant specializing in agency/client relationships.

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About slooowdown

Consultant in the fields of Relationships and Change
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