Volume 26: Long Term Relationships Can’t Be Classified

RoyOver the first quarter of 2016, this newsletter has revolved around the issue of classifying our everyday relationships the way relationships are classified in nature, and breaking them into three categories: Parasitic, Commensalistic, or Mutualistic.

After the last newsletter about mutualism, though, I received some push back from a 20-year friend in the industry.

His issue with this series on Relationships was very simple: he claimed that no long-term, human relationship is so simple as to be defined by one of these three tags. According to this friend, the very nature of human interaction makes any long term relationship too complex to label the way relationships are labeled in nature.

After some reflection on it, I agree to some extent.

Take, for example, my team here at Oberg and Associates, LLC. My relationship with my team is ever changing.

When we first bring a new Associate on, the relationship is parasitic in nature. For the first few days and weeks, the new Associate benefits from training, knowledge, and compensation, and I am affected negatively because I’m unable to work on my own relationships and client commitments while I work to get them up to speed.

After a few weeks or months, the new Associate develops his/her own relationships and comfort level with the industry. For a while, the relationship shifts to commensalism as I pull back some. I’m able to get back to my normal activities and be relatively unaffected, while the new Associate continues to benefit from our combined company knowledge, experience and support.

In theory, the relationship eventually becomes a mutualistic one. The Associate builds relationships and makes placements, benefiting my company and I, and the Associate continues to benefit from the company resources, support and my 31 years of experience.

And of course, things don’t always stay that way. Slumps happen and the relationship becomes Commensalism again. As with all companies, sometimes the wrong person is brought on and the lack of fit can become an emotional and financial drain on the office. This quickly becomes a parasitic relationship again. And sometimes, after a few issues that result in parasitism or commensalism, things turn around and become mutualism again.

The point is that any long-term human relationship goes through changes. Marriages, business relationships, friendships, children/parent relationships, it doesn’t matter. Whatever kind of relationship you’re looking at, there’s only one thing you can count on being consistent: it’s going to change. It’s going to evolve. There are going to be good times, there are going to be bad times, and there are going to be times when nothing good or bad is happening and things just kind of are what they are.

With that in mind, the conclusion from this new realization doesn’t look that different from the conclusions of the other articles: be open and honest with yourself and the people around you.

If things are going really well and everyone is getting what they want out of the relationship, figure out why that is and work to keep it that way. If the relationship has shifted to parasitism or commensalism, figure out why the change has occurred.

I guess the key to any relationship, business or personal, is just to show the other person the Mutual Respect to be Open and Honest when there’s an issue. That’s going to be the only way to get to the Hard Result that’s best for everyone, whether that’s making the necessary changes to make the relationship mutualistic again, or walking away completely.

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