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Archive for May, 2008

Designing Alliances Creates Healthier, Happier and More Productive Relationships

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt misunderstood, overlooked or disappointed? If you are a living and breathing human being, it’s more than likely you have experienced this many times in your life. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way!

In co-active coaching, we talk about the importance of Designing the Alliance. This is when you very clearly state your roles, understanding and expectations when you enter or change a relationship. In a life coaching session, this is one of the first things a coach will do with a client to make sure the “ground rules” are in place. This level of understanding and communication paves the way for a great relationship that is full of communication, honesty, trust and connection.

Designing the Alliance can work in any number of relationships including family, friends, working or romantic relationships. Although it’s probably too formal on a first date to sit down and begin the conversation, “Here’s how I work best and here’s what I expect from you and this relationship,” a perfectly timed “Designing the Alliance” conversation can help propel the relationship forward, or end something that will probably turn out to be a waste of time and energy.

What would this look like? In a work relationship, it could be a conversation prior to beginning a project with other members on the team. Or, you could Design the Alliance with a contractor who has just been hired to complete a very important project for your company. This would sound something like this: “We are about to enter into an agreement on this printing project. Let’s talk about what expectations we both have regarding the total cost, customer service during the project, completion date, and what might happen if we have a miscommunication.”

Here’s a more personal example of Designing the Alliance. Over the summer, our family took a trip to Chicago. My husband and I talked with our three pre-teen boys and Designed the Alliance the night before we left. It sounded something like this: “We are on our way to Chicago to visit grandma and grandpa. We’d like everyone to share their thoughts on what the trip will look like, and have each person share what his or her expectations are and what their goals include. We explained that during the trip, we can re-visit this discussion and Re-design the Alliance, but we all agreed that this is what it looks like right now.” This conversation helped us to clearly lay out our expectations and opened the lines of communication, which became the basis for a happy trip for each of us.

Depending on the situation, here are some basic outlines for Designing the Alliance.

  • Look at what conditions need to be in place to effectively work together

    ? This might include timeframes, methods and timing of communication, how you work best in these types of situations, etc.

  • What are some of the obstacles or potential obstacles we might encounter?

    Examples of this might include unexpected delays, sickness, miscommunications, etc.

  • What fundamental questions need to be answered to get the most out of this process? What are your expectations for the final product? What does success look like for you?
  • How do you like to be communicated with?

    Some people prefer email, weekly meetings or reports, phone calls, sticky notes, etc. Be clear up front what type and frequency of communication is expected.

The first step is to answer these questions yourself and then communicate them to someone else. If you do this and listen to their expectations, you will be miles ahead in making the relationship successful.

Coaching Challenge:

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Look for one relationship in your life to introduce the Design the Alliance concept. Remember, it can be something as small as your expectations for a child’s before school behavior all the way up to communicating about the multi-million dollar deal prior to signing the contract. Make sure to review all important aspects of the Alliance and agree to revisit the Alliance periodically or when problems arise. You will be amazed at what a difference this small step will make in the relationships that are important to you.

Sheri Fisher is a Life Coach who lives in Grand Junction, Colorado with her husband Tom and three sons. Having completed an extensive training program through Coaches Training Institute, her practice focuses on life coaching, marketing coaching, consulting and trainings. All situations and characters in her column are fictional to maintain client confidentiality. Sheri can be reached at or for more information, visit: