“You can’t just leave when we’re having a fight,” my wife said tearfully. “It’s not appropriate.”
It was five years ago, and we were a few months into our marriage. Following what I thought was the protocol of such arguments, it hit a crescendo after which I walked out, got in my car and drove away to cool down or stew (I forget which). After letting a few calls from the new Mrs. go to voicemail, I finally picked up to hear the words quoted above.
I guess you could call this the introductory phase of our marriage. I started to realize that, since neither of us was going anywhere (so to speak), escalating fights with reckless abandon came at a high price. With each new comment or dig, one could add a few hours (or days, depending on the barb’s sharpness) to the recovery time needed for things to settle back down. Since I didn’t enjoy a house with tension, these hours wore on me. I decided that fights needed to be kept within bounds, I started to understand the context that constituted our marriage which, in turn, helped me govern my behavior within it.
And context is everything. As regular readers of this column will know, we’re having our bathroom redone. After hiring a contractor and handing over some money, my wife was irritated about something he had, or hadn’t, done. “We’re in this thing with him now. Keep everything in the form of requests or reminders — we can’t get adversarial,” I cautioned.
I got to thinking about the idea of understanding, then working within, a relationship’s context when reading Managing Editor Kate Gamble’s interview with Bill Byers, VP & CIO at Western Maryland Health System. In Chapter 4, he said:
“One of my philosophies, especially in a small community hospital like we have here, is that maintaining very good vendor relationships is key, because I can’t afford to be switching vendors every couple of months. I don’t have the resources to do that, and so it’s important to have good partners, to vet them upfront, and to maintain these relationships, because it’s really paid off for us in the long run.”
While this is obviously good advice, I don’t think it’s necessarily intuitive. When in the customer role, most of us expect to be courted and catered to. Seldom do we realize the long-term benefits that accrue by showing sincere appreciation for those we are buying from. But Byers knows — when operating within such a context — that’s exactly what’s needed.
When it comes to large healthcare IT software and service agreements, in probably 70 percent of the cases out there, nobody is going anywhere. That means it’s not your job to get everything you want, feel entitled to, or even have contracted for, but simply to get the most you can out of your betrothed. You can do this by saying “thanks” for work well done, “excuse me, but … ” for work not up to your standards, and “listen, we have a problem …” when it’s time to escalate.
But that escalation needs to stay within the aforementioned bounds because, essentially, you’re married. And, as I learned a long time ago, when you’re married, it’s best to stay put and work through the problems, because you always have to come back home.