Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest.
One of the most powerful things you can do in the path towards building the career you want, the social connections you want, and the financial path you want is simply work on improving your ability to build and sustain relationships with other people. Time and time again, people who have a connection with you are there to help you along on your path, from job opportunities to social engagements and from romantic possibilities to solving home improvement problems.
That’s the entire focus of this book, Power of 2 by Rodd Wagner and Gale Muller. Subtitled How to Make the Most of Your Partnerships at Work and in Life, the book focuses intensely on how individual positive interpersonal relationships can help you achieve everything you want in life while also helping that other person to succeed, too.
It’s a theme that I strongly believe in, mostly because I’ve witnessed it in my own life. Interpersonal relationships led me to my marriage, my children, and every job I’ve ever held.
Let’s dig in.
One | Complementary Strengths
People often tend to gravitate towards people that are similar to them in skill level, ambition, career choice, and so forth. A much better strategy is to mix oxygen and acetylene – in other words, mix it up with people that have skills that complement your own, not replicate them. Wagner and Muller name many, many successful pairings made up of people with complementary skills, from John Stockton and Karl Malone to Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.
Two | A Common Mission
Those pairings aren’t just mixings of opposites, though. Successful pairings usually work because both members have a common mission, even if their skill sets are complementary. Stockton and Malone wanted to be successful basketball players, but a scorer can’t score without someone passing him the ball, and a passer can’t pass without someone to pass the ball to. Munger and Buffett both dreamed of being great investors, but Munger was an intense skeptic and Buffett was an intense enthusiast. In both cases, the respective traits brought to the table complement each other, but it’s the common goal that made the pairing really work.
Three | Fairness
One of the key elements of a working relationship between two people is fairness – a realization that both members are needed for success. The rewards of such a relationship must be split in an equitable way, as should be the work in such a relationship. Many, many relationships run aground when one person does an outsized portion of the work as compared to the amount of credit given for that work. The best way to solve this is to clearly communicate about outcomes that are important to either person. In other words, if an outcome is important to you, speak up. You also have to be constantly willing to appreciate that you’re both bringing skills and work to the table and that you both deserve some proportionate amount of the reward.
Four | Trust
Another element of a successful professional or personal relationship is trust. Can you trust that the other person in the relationship is acting in an appropriate fashion? Without that trust, a relationship can’t function successfully because both of the members are unable to completely rely on the other to hold up their end of the bargain. The interesting conclusion drawn by the authors is that the degree to which you succeed in forming trusting relationships is more a matter of how much you trust the other people, not how much they trust you. In other words, unless you know of a reason not to extend trust, you’re usually better off extending it, because the rewards almost always outweight the risks.
Five | Acceptance
Everyone has flaws and preferences and comfort zones. In personal life – and especially in professional life – you’re going to regularly interact with people who don’t match your preferences and don’t match your comfort zone, either. One big avenue to success is to become more accepting of people who aren’t a perfect match for you. Accept their differences and focus on the strengths that those people bring to the table.
Six | Forgiveness
Inevitably, your partner is going to make a mistake (as will you). No one is perfect and no relationship is perfect. You have to forgive the mistakes of others if you expect them to forgive your mistakes. Rather than getting bent out of shape at a mistake, look calmly for a solution for the short-term problem, then look for long-term solutions so that the same mistake does not happen again. On top of that, forgive the person for their mistakes and imperfections.
Seven | Communicating
If you see a problem or have a concern, you have to communicate that concern or the other person in the relationship may never even be aware of it. At the same time, you need to communicate that concern in a way that does not cause further problems. In other words, control your emotions and strive to share your thoughts as eloquently and gracefully as you can. Bring up potential solutions that can help alleviate the problem. Most importantly, listen to the response – and listening doesn’t mean standing there formulating your next point while waiting for the other person to finish flapping their gums. You have to incorporate your partner’s ideas and perspectives into any solution that you come up with; otherwise, it’s not a functional relationship.
Eight | Unselfishness
When it comes down to brass tacks, you have to be willing to put the needs of the relationship ahead of your own individual needs at times if you want to succeed. The authors retell the wonderful story of Ernest Shackleton and Frank Wild, which I’ve quoted from Shackleford’s Wikipedia entry:
Their return journey to McMurdo Sound was a race against starvation, on half-rations for much of the way. At one point Shackleton gave his one biscuit allotted for the day to the ailing Frank Wild, who wrote in his diary: “All the money that was ever minted would not have bought that biscuit and the remembrance of that sacrifice will never leave me”. They arrived at Hut Point just in time to catch the ship.
Undoubtedly, Shackleton wanted that biscuit. He was half-starving. However, he stepped back and realized that in order to succeed, he had to have a functional team around him. That meant helping his partner, who was further along the path to starvation than he was. He gave him his biscuit, and that helped the men to succeed.
In other words, if you have something extra to give of yourself that you don’t need that others on the team do need, don’t hold back on it out of a sense of greed. Recognize that it’s just another thing you can do to ensure that the relationship succeeds in whatever it is you’re moving towards.
In Closing: Looking Within
What’s the conclusion from all of this? To put it simply, a relationship has a much greater chance for success if you look at yourself as the key to that success. You cannot control the choices and motivations of your partner, but you can control your own. Look inside and seek the best answers you can find.
Is Power of 2 Worth Reading?
This book, in very eloquent language and through dozens of wonderful anecdotes and examples, spells out clearly what many of the key elements are for making a relationship succeed. I feel this is a worthwhile read for virtually everyone, as almost everyone who reads it will find some value in its pages.
I particularly recommend Power of 2 to the loners out there who have a lot of difficulty working in teams or building relationships with others.
Success often comes about from relationships, and the time you invest understanding how those relationsips work and how you can improve your ways of handling relationships is valuable time, indeed. Power of 2 fits right into that statement.