The Relationship Balance Sheet and the Magic Box

Right now, accountants and finance professionals are working around the clock to “close the books,” to finalize the balance sheets of their respective companies. Their numbers will be analysed and then approved by their board, scrutinized by the investors and – hopefully –audited as well.

I must confess that I do the same: but wait, not with my (limited) finances but with my relationships.

I call it the relationship balance sheet.

“Relationship Balance Sheet”

 – A sort of end-of-the-year evaluation where I take stock of the relationships – personal and professional – I have in my life. It’s a sober moment of reflection and self-assessment. As such I may have some regrets, as I ask myself if I was able to be the person, I aspire to become with the people I love, my family, friends and colleagues. Every year I find reasons to improve. I know I have tried hard, but I am not sure I have always succeeded.

I also evaluate and reflect on other people’s behaviour towards me by asking if a specific relationship brings me joy, energy, intellectual stimulation, emotional connection, caring or … just the opposite.

I then divide relationships – and people – into three categories:

  1. The “Asset People,
  2. ” the “Jury is Still Out” people and
  3. the “Liability People”:

for each of them I have a special place. Bear with me.


With the “Asset People” there is a common element: my relationship with them and (I believe) vice versa is permeated with reciprocal respect, trust, meaningful exchanges, energy, and integrity. Take for example “A,” who is a wonderful woman, recently appointed as CEO of a global bank in her country. She’s just brilliant, generous, a natural born connector, a true positive Leader: a role model. Working with “A” is, to me, pure bliss. Or take “M,” a sharp, intellectually curious mind: her problem? She’s doesn’t know how good she is. She’s caring, compassionate, fun to be with, versatile, a true beautiful mind: working for her, as Executive Coach has certainly been an amazing journey for me.

And let’s talk about “E”: a truly decent man, a Senior Executive of a multi-billion-dollar company: when we recently had dinner, we ended up talking for four hours, with reciprocal trust and respect. What a fantastic person, humble, curious to learn, always considerate, wise. And let me mention “P, or “G”” they have both recently promoted to a big role: both keen to learn and improve both able to move mountains with their charisma and natural energy. And “D” is a hero of mine: a true thought leader in his own field, a caring, wonderful man I am proud to collaborate with: a true gem. “R,” is a kind of genius in mathematics, in love with his job, constantly re-inventing ideas, a generous man with an amazing sense of humour, well into his 50s and yet somewhat still naïve and at the same time smart, with outstanding business acumen.

Last ”S” – mother, professional, runner, curious, humble, determined and – bonus point for me – a big Bruce’s Springsteen’s fan. The list can go on and on, and I can easily add 50 more people without any problem. I am so lucky I have met these people on my journey as they are enriching my life with meaning, respect, trust. I hope to do the same with theirs.

“Jury is Still Out” People

The “Jury is Still Out” is about people who still have to demonstrate the element of reciprocity that permeates every adult relationship. Let me explain. Take for example “M”: we agreed to collaborate on several fronts a couple of years ago. We have done, but (so far) I’ve generated all the opportunities: I believe he’s a perfectly decent man but he’s been on the receiving end for quite a while now. Will he deliver with the same commitment and regularity I have demonstrated to him?

I am optimistic – I like him and respect him – but to be on the safe side I will let you know next year.

the “Liability People”

And then we have the “Liability People.” The main feature of these kinds of people is that they remember you exist only when they need you. They have a shallow idea of relationship: a relationship is a transaction limited to today’s need: their needs, not yours of course. Take for example former colleagues who magically re-appear when they are looking for jobs. There’s a former colleague I wanted to help to find her a new job: she asked me to help her find a new job, I sent her a role she was qualified for, she asked me to provide references, she got the job and…elegantly disappeared. When she needed me, she called at 11 pm, then it took an average of six months for her to respond to a message from me.  Of course, I ended the relationship, as we know that the true colours of a person are revealed when you are no longer useful to them.

In this category we will also find potential clients that never bothered to respond to you, only to contact you when – guess what? – they need a job or the connections to find one; or people who have abused their power when they were in a position to do so; or people who have amazing profiles displayed on Linkedin only to find out that it’s all fake. Like this guy who claims to be a best-selling author. I know that “his” book was written by others and it was put on sale for one cent for the first week. Voila! Here’s the best-selling author. Do I want to be affiliated with these charlatans?

The real question here is simple: do you need these people in your life? Does it give you joy to engage with them? After talking to them do you feel used or energized? If the sensation is negative, they squarely belong to “liability people” and it’s time to remove them from your life. Wait: I am not advocating any vindictive or violent solution here, far from it, nor we should use some sinister voodoo ritual with needles and black magic.

I am about to reveal to you a secret.

Many years ago, I bought a lovely wooden box, the size of a shoebox, in a street market in Zanzibar. Once a year, I take this box, open it and put in little pieces of paper, each with the name and surname of the liability person written on it. I then say loudly the following, “Dear XXX, I forgive you for the pain you have caused me:  Farewell.”  The name of the person will then remain un-said for the rest of my life, as I do not wish to even pronounce it anymore as, for me, they cease to exist.

If they re-appear in some shape or form, I just ignore them completely. I have forgiven them, but I have not and will not forget them. As we have learned from the wisdom of Native Americans, “Once you find what is worth keeping, with a blow of kindness blow the rest away.”

So: farewell Liability People:  I want to use my love and energy for the Assets People. Believe me, it’s a great social detox we all need. I’m sure you have a box somewhere in the house you can use for this purpose: not too big and not too little either. You’ll quickly fill it up.

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