Relationships in our lives come and go.
Some relationships are long, some are short. Some are close, others not.
But to live is to be in relationship with others. Whether in business, family, school, or community, people always move in and out of our lives.
And sometimes, ending a relationship is the hardest part.
One approach that I have always found helpful to ending relationships (for any reason) graciously is what I call the “Never have to cross the street” philosophy.
Allow me to explain:
Ten years ago, we sold our house in Vermont and moved to Arizona.
We used a realtor for the sale, Garry.
Describing Garry as our realtor doesn’t really give our relationship justice. He and his wife were far more than realtors to Kim and me, they were friends.
Garry was an important man in my life. He is someone I look up to even today. He was one of the first people we talked to when arriving in Vermont. He helped us buy our home when we eventually moved there, he and his wife remained involved in our lives all six years, and he helped us again as we sold the home.
During the negotiations to sell our house, he offered me a word of advice that I have never, ever forgotten.
As is typically the case in a home sale, buyer and seller were negotiating over price and terms of the contract.
At one point, I remember asking Garry for advice, “How much should we be pushing for here? How much should I really be demanding of the other person? Does this seem fair?”
He replied, “Well, this is a negotiation and you can ask for anything you want. But my philosophy, for every business transaction, is that when it’s over, if I were to see the other party walking towards me on the sidewalk, I wouldn’t have to cross the street to avoid them.”
It was a simple sentence and a simple thought. And yet, the advice has shaped countless conversations and relationships for me ever since—not just in the sale of that house, but hopefully, in all my interactions (both business and personal), since then.
The phrase has often been repeated in my head, “Am I conducting myself in such a way, that I wouldn’t have to cross the street if I saw this person walking toward me on the sidewalk?”
It has provided a simple framework for not just the words that I use, the decisions that I make, but also the attitude and motivations behind them.
“When this relationship ends (whether it be business, friendship, or family), can I look this person in the eye confidently and have a friendly conversation?”
Relationships aren’t always easy. And not every relationship continues indefinitely. Nor is it necessarily healthy for every relationship to continue.
But my hope, is that in any relationship of mine that comes to an end, it will end in such a way that I never have to cross the street to avoid that person. There may be disagreements on how it ended or the compromises made, but when our conscience is clear, we can walk straight with our head held high.
I should note that I believe this philosophy on life can hold true with every relationship.
But business dealings, as in my example above, may be the easiest place to practice this principle—after all, we’re usually just talking about money.
It is when the relationships closest to us come to an end that we often hurt the most. And it is in those relationships, where the “never have to cross the street” principle may be the most difficult to practice: a divorce, an involved parent, a disgruntled family member, or a friend who turned their back on us.
In those cases, it is important to remember that you cannot control the other person and the decisions they are making. But you can always control the way you respond and the motives that guide you as the relationship ends.
And even in the most difficult of endings, you can act with honesty, integrity, and graciousness. And when you do, you’ll never have to be the one to cross the street.