I spend a lot of time thinking about human relationships. After all, I write books and blogs on human relations, I teach human relations workshops and seminars for IT people, and it’s generally a big part of my life. I think a lot about how we get along, how we don’t get along, what makes relationships work, and what makes them fall apart.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about marriage. No particular reason, it’s just something I’ve been reflecting on. Janet, my wife, and I just got back from a short road trip in which we drove the North Cascade Loop through the North Cascade Mountains in the state of Washington. We had a great time seeing the sights, hiking a little, sitting by campfires, and just generally exploring. We enjoyed conversation with each other and we also enjoyed some time apart during our trip. Janet is an artist and loves to explore galleries and museums and wander around craft bazaars and farmers markets, looking for ideas for her own artwork. I enjoy sitting under a tree with Cleo, my dog, reading a book or just people-watching.

I realize that one of the reasons our marriage works is because we both treat each other with respect. Although many of our interests are substantially different, we’re both able to accept that certain things are very important to the other and find ways to accommodate each others’ needs. Some of Janet’s ideas sometimes seem a little far-out to me. I respect her so much, however, that it’s easy to remind myself that, even though I don’t understand some of the ways she believes, there must be something to it, or she wouldn’t believe that way. I think she feels the same way about me.

We always speak well of the other, whether we’re with the other person or not.

Not only do we treat each other with respect, we also make sure to always treat our marriage with respect. Marriage is like a three-legged stool in which one leg represents you, another leg represents your spouse, and the third leg represents the marriage. If any of the three legs is treated disrespectfully or otherwise damaged, the stool will collapse and it can’t stand until all three legs are healthy and strong. Knowing this, Janet and I will always make decisions about everything based on asking these three questions:

  1. Is it respectful to myself?
  2. Is it respectful to my spouse?
  3. Is it respectful to our marriage?

If the answer to any of the three questions is “no”, then we don’t do whatever it is. We’ve dropped friendships when it became apparent that the “friend” in question was being disrespectful to one of us and our marriage.

A similar human relations concept applies in our relationship with our customers or end users. Our relationship with our end users or customers is also like a three-legged stool in which one leg represents you, another leg represents your customer or end user, and the third leg represents your company and the relationship that exists between you, the customer, and the company. The great companies understand that all three entities must be healthy in order to ensure success. It’s really pretty simple: you must take care of the customer, the company, and the employees. People who work successfully in end user or customer support also understand that all three entities, the customer, the company, and themselves, must be treated with respect in order for the enterprise to prosper.

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