Relationship Above the Deal: Lesson from a Christmas Tree Grandfather.



Your grandfather, my father, has taught me many things over the years, mostly by example rather than in words.  He is a consistent man, strong in character, who most definitely walks the walk.  One tremendous lesson that I have carried with me is that relationships are more valuable than the deal. 

What our society tells us.

We are often taught in the world of finance, sales, and deal-making how to ensure that we come out in the best way possible.  We learn strategies to make sure the we get at least our fair portion in a transaction, if not more.  The motivation here is that the better you are at deal-making and the more you get, the better off you will be now and in the future.

This can show up in everything from real estate transactions, to prices that you charge clients or customers, and even in simple things like splitting the grocery bill on a vacation with friends or family.

We are constantly pressured to make sure the we get our “just” portion.

The negative side effects of always milking a deal for all it is worth.

Constantly seeking to come out ahead in financial transactions has many bad side effects, but two really stand out as the most damaging.  The first is external.  When you are always pushing to make sure that you at least get your fair portion, if not more, you alienate those with whom you are interacting.  They are left feeling like they were taken advantage of, that they made a poor deal, or that they can’t trust you in the future.

If you continue to treat people with this approach, a terrible thing will happen.  Your reputation will begin to proceed you.  This will begin to deter truly upstanding people or companies from doing any sort of business with you and will leave only those who are also interested in getting all that they can squeeze out of a deal, which makes for pretty miserable interactions.

The second is internal.  If you always hinge the success of your deals and financial interactions on whether or not you feel like you came out ahead with every last penny, any time that you don’t, bitterness will begin take up residence in your heart.  This bitterness is dangerous and will eat away at you slowly over time, making you cynical and untrusting of people.

Christmas tree farmer wisdom.

Growing up on the Christmas tree farm, Dad would often take us on a month-long cross country trip in the summer during the off season.  These are some of the best memories us siblings have from growing up.  We would visit Mom and Dad’s old college friends and any other random people that they knew.

On one of our trips, we stopped to visit a wholesale Christmas tree customer of your grandfather’s.  He was so excited that Dad would visit him and took us young kids out tubing behind his boat on a nearby lake.

I must have been only 10 or 12, but I remember very well, that at one point in the day, the man we were visiting made it a point to stop and tell me, in front of my dad, that he had never worked with such an upstanding man.  “Your dad is the best Christmas tree farmer that I have ever worked with.  He always does what he says he will do and is always more than fair.”  The Christmas tree industry is fairly notorious for not being very organized and a bit cutthroat at times with dishonesty often being used in stealing customers or getting “good deals” on trees.

Later on I had a conversation with my dad about this practice within the industry of being so worried about getting as much you can for trees through often dishonest practices.

What he said, I will never forget, “We have plenty, I would rather have the relationship than more money.”

Now to be clear, this was not coming from someone who was swimming in money.  This was coming from a man with a wife and 4 young kids, raising us on a small Christmas tree farm where every extra dollar would have helped greatly.

Relationships over the deal.  The 51% rule.

I have seen first hand the long-term relationships that your grandfather has built over the years and the richness of trust and respect that has accompanied them.  However, we are still human and our tendency is to always watch out for ourselves first.  So, in may own life I have had to try to implement a rule for myself to help to curb my selfishness.

The 51% rule essentially means that in any interaction, deal, or trade with someone else, I strive to make sure that from their point of view they came out just a bit ahead, or received at least 51% of the benefit of the deal.  This helps me to err on the side of making them feel like it was a beneficial interaction for them.

This does not mean that you should make terrible financial deals or constantly allow yourself to be taken advantage of.  Often times you can make great deals where both sides feel like they got 75%, or more, of the benefit of the transaction (a “win, win”).  What I am saying is that there is plenty of opportunity out there and that allowing the other party to come out a bit ahead from their point of view is not going to break you financially in the long run.  In fact, if it is, you need to reevaluate the deals you are finding.  More importantly, it will build strong trust-filled relationships.

And even in those cases where you feel that you have truly been taken advantage of and treated dishonestly, the best course of action is to chalk it up to education cost.  Be thankful for the opportunity to learn, though it may have been unpleasant, and do not let bitterness have a foothold in your heart.  It serves no purpose except to hurt you and others in the future.

Remember, the relationship is more important than the deal.

With Love,