As an SME owner or manager you already know the importance of healthy relationships for success in business. Whether those relationships are with your life partner, family, friends, colleagues or clients, getting them wrong can cost you your business, your relationship or both.

That was almost our story. In our second year of marriage (28 years ago) we pursued our dream of running a business together with the famous last words "How hard can it be?" It took just 3 months to discover the answer: "Very"! Putting it mildly, we quickly discovered that our very different workstyles, approaches and stubborn personalities weren't helping the relationship, and frustrations at work followed us home. What was once an easy-going relationship became a nightmare of stress and anxiety about the future - of our business, our income and our marriage. 

What we learnt then became the catalyst for the work we still do today.  We learned that our differences - though immensely frustrating at the time - were not dysfunctional, but complementary strengths in disguise if we were willing to do the hard work of learning to ‘turn up' better, have better conversations and work better as a team. 

We did - and it transformed our lives.  We became passionate about sharing our newfound Relational Intelligence and, having run talks and workshops evenings and weekends around the day job for 25 years, seven years ago set up our 3rd SME together. Our mission: To help people - business leaders, teams, couples - change their behaviour from habits that are damaging relationships to habits that strengthen them on purpose. We also set up a charity to help communities and, importantly, schools equip the next generation with these essential skills.

In 2019, we got the amazing opportunity to do a TEDx talk. The euphoria was soon tempered by the challenge of condensing 25+ years' experience into a 15-mins talk!  However, as we reflected on hundreds of conversations over the years, a clear pattern emerged. Every successful relationship we'd ever worked with - whether corporate or domestic - each exhibited 4 distinct habits. And every struggling relationship we had seen was missing one or more of those habits. Our talk, "The 4 Habits of ALL Successful Relationships", was born. Today, we're delighted to see the talk fast approaching 3 million views on YouTube. And while that's a great ego stroke, even more satisfying are all the comments about the practical ways in which the habits have helped people improve the quality of their relationships.

So, what are the habits?

Habit #1: BE CURIOUS, not critical was key for us. We had very different skill sets and even more different expectations about the "right" way to do things. We were each convinced that the other person knew our way was right but was choosing to be difficult! When we finally respected the fact that we were genuinely wired differently and took the time to understand why we each did things the way we did, we started working better together. Instead of being very critical of each other, we learned to get curious about our different skill sets and divide workloads in a way that played to our individual strengths. This allowed us to develop the kind of teamwork that makes the dream work... and continues to pay dividends to this very day!

Habit #2: BE CAREFUL, not crushing was also a biggie for us. Jon came to our SME business from a background as a City trader. He was used to high pressure environments with little regard for people's feelings. The general expectation was "Show me the results or get out of my face"!  That didn't work so well when working with your wife, nor does it in any long-term team. The harsh reality is most of us show up selfishly in conflict situations. Developing Habit #2 is about improving your ability to show up better and treat each other with care, especially during conflict, working towards WIN/WIN versus WIN/LOSE outcomes for long-term successful relationships.

Habit #3: ASK, don't assume is about recognising the biases, assumptions and expectations we have of each other and learning to build trust and respect by asking better questions.  Because something is important to us, we assume it's equally important to everyone else and act accordingly. That can be very frustrating - both to them and to us - and often we leave people feeling disrespected or hurt as a result. Developing Habit #3 starts with figuring out what's really important to us, then setting healthy boundaries to protect them. This helps us be more respectful of other people's values, have better conversations when they are different, and build respect for their boundaries too.

Habit #4: CONNECT, before you correct is about making deliberate efforts to ensure the people around you feel valued. Many of us overdose on "constructive feedback" without much thought for making people know how much we appreciate them. But people go where they feel welcomed, and only stay where they feel valued. If we want the important people in our lives to stick around, we have to keep them feeling like we value them. A recent McKinsey survey confirmed that one of the top reasons people cited for leaving organisations post-Covid was not more money, but feeling unvalued. The same applies to our life partners. Developing Habit #4 is about learning to communicate value in a way that is meaningful to the important people in our lives, and doing so regularly.

Will The 4 Habits help you improve relationships in your business?

Absolutely. In fact, when you invest the time to make these habits your default behaviour, you will improve ALL your relationships - at work, at home and in life!

Find out more in our book The 4 Habits of ALL Successful Relationships - available at all good online booksellers and also from our website: