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Guest Column: Why Bickering Can Improve Relationships: Kim Walker

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Guest Column: Why Bickering Can Improve Relationships: Kim Walker

Regular, constructive dialogue is healthy for B2B relationships. This provides frequent opportunities to raise problems and to avoid letting trivial things get out of control writes Kim Walker, Founder, Aprais.

Recently I was fascinated by two TED talks that revealed remarkably similar observations about relationships, despite the fact that they came from two unrelated professions. One from a psychologist Robert Waldinger based on an extraordinary study that followed thousands of individuals over a 75-year period, and another from British mathematician Hannah Fry, who recalled a study by John Gottman et al titled “Mathematics of marriage”.

Why I found these talks exciting, relevant and important to Aprais is that I believe the rules of relationships often apply whether between people, companies, or countries.

Despite their different professional perspectives, these TED speakers suggested that good relationships don’t have to be smooth all the time and that bickering can be healthy for relationships.

Now ‘bickering’ means just that. They are not talking about clearly destructive, degrading screaming matches. But contrary to conventional wisdom, research suggests that even couples that argue incessantly, can be termed ‘low-risk’ of divorce as long as each partner is engaged in the relationship to the degree that both felt they could count on the other when the going gets tough.

Mathematicians were able to predict with a 90% accuracy, relationships that were ‘high-risk’ and ‘low-risk’ of divorce based on what they called the ‘Negativity threshold’ – basically, the degree of tolerance before the other partner gets annoyed.

The most important predictive factor, was how positive or negative each partner was being in the conversation. They also identified a number of keys to low-risk relationships; they don’t allow trivial things to get out of control. They don’t let problems go un-noticed and they are continually repairing relationships with a positive outlook.

Think of this in the context of B2B relationships.

Analysis of our unique database comprising over 15,000 B2B relationships, lends credence to the idea that regular, formalised relationship health checks accompanied by positive open discussion of the issues and solutions are key to productive (happy) relationships.

Why does all this sound so intuitively correct and easy to understand yet so hard to implement in our personal and business lives - the tendency to divorce rather than repair? Because we humans often seek the quick fix. But as we have observed repeatedly over our 15 years of measuring B2B relationships, unless issues are identified and addressed leading to fundamental behaviour changes, problems will recur. We can be statistically certain that applies to client-agency relationships, and I suspect the same applies to couples.

Regular, constructive dialogue (let’s call it bickering) is healthy for B2B relationships. This provides frequent opportunities to raise problems and to avoid letting trivial things get out of control. Taking a pro-active approach to building an optimum relationship.

In Professor Waldingers TED talk he also commented that good, close relationships are good for our health and wellbeing.

So if business productivity doesn’t stir you into regular, constructive evaluation and dialogue with your business partners, perhaps the notion of health and wellbeing might?

A bit of bickering would seem to be a good thing.


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