HAL“Open the pod bay door, Hal.” “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” – 2001: a Space Odyssey

When astronaut Dave Bowman asked the Hal 9000 to open the door, he didn’t get the answer he wanted—but at least he got a response.

In today’s business climate, agility and speed are critical. Your strategic relationships cannot thrive—or even survive—if you are bogged down in the inertia created by a failure to communicate. Don’t leave your strategic relationships in a vacuum.

Do you have the same priorities?

I’ve recently had the experience of relationships with a couple of executives where we were accomplishing great results together, and particularly during the holidays and recent disruptive weather conditions, they came to a halt. What changed? At first I was receiving confirmation that I was adding value; they were better off for the advice I provided. And then they started to neglect the strategic relationships that are instrumental to their success. They got so busy doing the urgent that they forgot about the important.

The simple truth is, I can’t help you if we don’t touch base on a consistent basis. I understand that other priorities emerge–you travel out of the country, you get involved with a board meeting, you have your annual conference. Whatever it is, when that happens, you go dark. And in that vacuum, few can continue to add real-time value.

If you are the one who “goes dark” in a relationship, you have to ask—have your own priorities changed? Why? What leads you to be less responsive to your goals for this relationship? How is it that you haven’t communicated about this growing misalignment? When was the last time you checked how well your priorities were aligned?

What are you so busy with?

If your answer is “I’ve just been too busy”—pay attention. That’s a warning sign. When I hear somebody say “I’m busy,” what I hear—rightly or wrongly—is that whatever we’ve been working on is just not a priority. I think most people have this reaction. If you are actually so busy that you cannot connect with people who are contributing to your important goals, it may be time to do some introspection on what is it that you are so busy with. Are you doing tasks that only you can do?  Are you working at your highest and best level? Are there tasks on your to-do list that you really should delegate to others? Not abdicate to others, but delegate, with appropriate direction, responsibility, authority, and feedback?

Are you creating headwind for yourself?

If you cannot find time to connect with strategic relationships, whether you are aware of it or not, your priorities are in flux. It’s crucial that you understand what is changing and why, because your behavior is creating headwind for yourself. That’s not something you would intentionally do. When you go dark with the minutiae and stop communicating, you leave your strategic relationships in a bind. You keep them at a distance that’s less than productive.

A quick touch can do wonders to keep relationships on track. Don’t underestimate how available people are to you. We live in a multi-modal world. You could email them, text them, keep up via various social media channels, call their cell, office, or home line. I don’t think I’ve ever refused to pick up when a client has called me at home. Taking a moment to touch base keeps priorities in alignment even when deep work must wait.

The quick touch assures there will be definitive next conversations, which will lead to next steps in your work together. Great conversations are the foundation of great relationships. The best work gets done through iterative conversations—“here’s what I’m thinking, what do you thinking? That’s an interesting point. Let me go test that idea, come back to you. Here’s what I found out.” When you go dark, you create a break in that flow of energy.

When you fail to make time to link one conversation to the next, you create unnecessary weakness and instability in your relationships. If I don’t hear from you this week, or next week, in the absence of that information, our project slows to a halt. I start to feel that you didn’t see value in my work, and I get busy with other things. Our priorities slip farther apart; the energy of our iterative conversations dissipates. With the mounting headwind between us, it will be difficult for us to get our relationship back into a productive flow. We’ve drained it of its potential for agility and speed. We’ve replaced oxygen with a vacuum.

“HAL, I won’t argue with you anymore! Open the doors!” “Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.”

Dave had every reason to fear the crazed computer. Keeping the conversation going was his best hope for survival. Are you being a Hal or a Dave? Are you killing your strategic relationships by creating a vacuum, or keeping the conversation alive?

Nour Takeaways

  1. If you go dark with a strategic relationship, examine how and why your priorities have changed.
  2. If you are “too busy” for even a quick communication, consider delegating more. You are putting your own goals at risk.
  3. Conversations are where great relationships make progress; cutting yourself off from them creates headwind.
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