Breaking Up Well

Breaking Up Well

End with the beginning in mind

In two recent mentoring sessions, the stuck spot each client was chewing on was whether to end a relationship and if so, how.

Many don’t know how to end relationships well, whether it’s an employment relationship, a personal one, or a business contract. Responsibility-thinking helps tremendously.

(This post began as an email broadcast to the Responsibility Community. It is 850 words and takes less than 5 minutes.)

I first wrote about breaking up well over twenty years ago in a short section that appeared in Teamwork Is an Individual Skill. I thought it would be fun and valuable to include a portion of that section below, along with my comments (comments are in parentheses and italicized) twenty years later.

### Start of the book excerpt ###

End With The Beginning In Mind in Personal and Business Relationships

I don’t know why people seldom end relationships well.

(I understand more now. It’s because our anxiety triggers The Responsibility Process®, and then we operate from one or more of the coping states instead of taking 100% Responsibility for breaking up well.)

Maybe it’s because we all want so much to win — and endings threaten us with losing.

Maybe we’re annoyed that we don’t know how to derive any more mutual benefit from a partnership.

Maybe we’re embarrassed about promises we implied and haven’t kept.

Maybe we’re upset that another didn’t live up to our expectations.

(Mostly, we don’t know how to identify our feelings as the coping states of Lay Blame, Justify, Shame. Quit, or Obligation, and then get ourselves to the mental state of Responsibility. In Responsibility we can more clearly see what we want about this situation and how to handle it with humanity and integrity.)

For whatever reasons, when collaborations or partnerships cease to serve us, most of us start jockeying for position, politicking, and blaming our circumstances on our partners.

Sometimes endings even explode into battles. To describe it analytically, we might say that collaborative behavior diminishes — and positioning behavior accelerates — as the outer edge of a contract’s time horizon comes into focus.

No matter how lucrative the venture may have been for both parties, by the time the end actually comes, it’s common for one or both parties to want to get far away from the other. Counselors sometimes describe bad endings this way: We don’t break up because we’re fighting; we fight because we’re breaking up.

(Some context: When I wrote this section I was working with semiconductor industry companies to understand supply chain partnering — the practice of building trusting relationships at the boundaries so the parties can operate at “the speed of trust”, as Steven M.R. Covey later popularized in his book, The Speed of Trust.

One of many profound lessons from my study of partnering was that successful partners separate business negotiations (which can have a win-lose feel) from conversations about partnering together for mutual gain (which will have a win-win feel).)

I won’t pretend we can do much to avoid endings. They’re as inevitable as beginnings.

But I have observed that we can improve the quality of endings by resisting three emotional traps:

  • Unnecessarily burning bridges
  • Harming one’s own reputation
  • Bringing inhumanity to oneself and others

In my experience, we can expand our responsibility around ending relationships by taking the following actions during endings:

  • Approach the end of a collaboration with the beginning in mind — recall the most vivid memory possible of the positive intentions and positive results the partnership produced.
  • Thank your partner(s) for the opportunity, results, and trust they provided you.
  • Acknowledge BOTH that you don’t see an immediate future that motivates you to continue investing in the relationship AND, that this is NOT a reason for either party to stoop to irresponsible behavior.
  • Negotiate fairly and compassionately during the dismantling of infrastructure and the redistribution of responsibilities. Pay your fair share or more of these expenses. If you believe that either party may feel threatened, engage a facilitator to keep you responsible.
  • If the other party exhibits difficult end-game behavior, show compassion and strive for resolution by de-escalating rather than escalating.

### End of the book excerpt ###

These ideas apply to personal as well as professional relationships.

(And, it’s all personal.

Speaking of personal, so many songs came to mind while preparing this. One was my favorite Jimmy Durante jingle, Did You Ever Have the Feeling.

Then there are myriad breakup songs:

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon. I also like Miley Cyrus’s version.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, recorded by Neil Sedaka.

And with a hat-tip to the Durante theme, Should I Stay or Should I Go, by The Clash.)

Oftentimes we remain in a relationship (especially in employment situations and personal partnerships) because we don’t realize — or know how — to step into our power and free ourselves. We stay physically, and we disengage emotionally.

This is the coping state of Quit.

Quit is the mental state defined as giving up to avoid the pain of Shame and the burden of Obligation. You can see this on The Responsibility Process poster.

Let’s look at the employment situation

I’m often asked, “If I quit a job, is that Quit?” The answer is “maybe.”

If you leave with unfinished business so that you carry it with you and revisit it with “what if” and “if only” thoughts, then that’s likely coping in Quit.

To leave with Responsibility, finish your business so you don’t carry it with you. Clean up any residue, first within you, then between you (if called for) so you are complete emotionally.

As mentioned above, I’m more concerned with your physically staying and emotionally quitting.

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