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Three Lessons Buster Taught Me About Relationships

Just before Christmas, we made a cross-country sojourn from our home in Pennsylvania to our new winter home in Arizona. We packed our Camry with everything it could possibly fit, including our 12 ½ year-old, 120-pound Great Dane/Boxer, Buster, and Zippy, our three-year-old, 22-pound bundle of Jack Russell. For six days, except for one day spent holed-up in an awful hotel in an even worse town because a blizzard was blocking our Westward route, we drove 500 – 600 miles a day, dutifully stopping every two hours to give everybody a break.

It was no mean feat, especially since Buster was literally on his last legs, suffering from a progressive condition that was causing him to have difficulty supporting himself on his back legs. But he was happy, bright-eyed, playful and hungry as a horse. So we were happy to give him the extra space and attention he needed to make the journey with us.

When we arrived in Arizona, he and Zippy took to the new yard like a pair of puppies, playing with each other like nobody’s businesses, barking at all of the new sites and sounds, rolling on their backs and snuggling together on a “muttress” in the sunshine.

Just six days into his retirement in the desert, Buster woke up in a good deal of pain. We rushed him to the local vet to see what steps we could take to give him some relief. Nothing could be done and we made the difficult decision to euthanize him right then. It was a sad and difficult decision, as any animal owner knows all too well.

But when his remains were returned to us a few days later in a neat white container, we didn’t receive them with a lump in the throat or a tear. I was surprised, so I reflected on my reaction. Am I really that cold and unemotional? Or had I learned a new lesson? It was three lessons, actually, about building effective relationships — with pets or people — that never include regrets:

#1: Keep your agreements. When we rescue an animal, we make a written agreement with the rescue organization to return the animal if we can’t care for it. We make an additional agreement with our animals: we’ll take good care of you for life and make sure your life is long and happy. You’re with us, buddy, no worries. When Buster’s life was long but no longer happy, we kept our agreement with him, in a way that was painful for us but perfect for him. Building effective business relationships often requires keeping your agreements, even when it hurts.

#2: It’s not about you. We could have used the space Buster occupied in our car to transport more “stuff” to our new digs. And, frankly, it was no walk in the dog park hauling him in and out of the car many times each day. But because of the pledge we had made to Buster (see #1), focusing on his well-being was our first and unselfish priority. Any business would do well to remember that it exists because of the relationship it has with its customers and that they are #1.

#3: Keep communicating. Focusing on the other guy and keeping your agreements go a long way toward building relationships that are free of blame, shame, guilt, resentments and regrets and filled with trust, respect, loyalty and, yes, even love. But that’s not enough without constant communication, which is a two-way, mutually beneficial activity. With a dog, we listen to barks, whines, yelps, pants and quizzical looks. We speak with gentle words, pets and scratches, healthy meals, playtimes, walks, car rides and visits to the vet. In return, we get loyalty and unconditional love.

In business, we listen and respond, in just as many ways, to our customers. In my business this is called “two-way symmetrical communication.

In any business, it’s the key to building effective relationships.

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