‘Good fences make good neighbours’ is a line in a Robert Frost poem that’s much better known than the poem itself – Mending Wall* – which we studied at school many moons ago. I think of it every time I repair the windblown fence panels in our back garden (and trample all over our neighbour’s flowerbeds while doing so).
I was reminded of it again recently when resolving an incident with a partner organisation that could have had severe consequences for The Repair Shed’s future. In the not-for-private-profit-sector there’s a tendency to think that because ‘we’re all in it together working for a common cause’ we’ll collaborate, co-operate and generally be nice to each other. This, of course, is not always the case.
I’ve spent 35 years in the not-for-private- profit sector and I’ve been a member of a trade union all that time (I’m amazed how few of my colleagues have been union members). When I first joined a union I was told “you’re wasting your money, you’re working with friends”. But that’s the point; it’s harder being hard with people you know and like. Having a professional body to intervene on your behalf de-personalises and professionalises the negotiation. This has been the case on a couple of occasions in my 35 years (and recovered the cost of my union subs many times over!)
Not that the recent ‘falling out’ needed anything like union intervention, but it did result in us agreeing to formalise expectations about relationships and behaviour by putting it in writing – to make it explicit to everyone involved – friends new and old and those yet to come on board.
Someone recently said ‘I’m straight with people and then I don’t lie awake worrying’. I can now see the wisdom in that – being clear, consistent, direct, but sensitive, in our written and verbal communications can go a long way to maintaining friendly and effective relationships inside and outside work.
So make good your fences and you won’t need to mend them so often.