> Partnership Evolution
> Incorporating Self-interests
This is the 5th of 9 units of CPFOA’s Partnership Evolution
Culturally we equate self-interest with selfishness. Often when we want something for ourselves, it’s considered bad form or inappropriate, and we sometimes feel guilty about wanting it. Or we’re told we’re wrong for thinking about ourselves. And we’re certainly skeptical of the motives driving others’ self-interest.
The definition of self-interest is revealing. “Self” refers to the individual: body, mind and spirit. “Interest” means having right or title to something or to participate in something to gain advantage. Typically we use “self-interest” in the latter sense—and our skepticism is somewhat conditioned. Every day there are media reports about how one nation is trying to promote its self-interest over another, or how politicians maneuver to gain a trivial political advantage. Mark Twain expressed this manipulative view of self-interest when he said: “God protect me from self-interest masquerading as moral principle.”
Exposing Self-interests. Given those negative connotations, self-interest—and related terms like hidden agendas, turf issues and special interests—are always bad, right? Wrong! Self-interests actually can be positive and powerful tools. Moreover, resisting self-interests in a group only makes them tougher to deal with, allowing them to persist.
Twain’s plea was against the misrepresentation of self-interest, not self-interest itself. Self-interest is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Don’t deny it is there. Acknowledge that any group of people you work with will have multiple self-interests.
Paradoxically, if you spend more time understanding a group’s self-interests and less time on your partnership’s desired impact, you’ll actually end up with more time to focus on your work. Why? Because you haven’t wasted energy maneuvering individual agendas.
During the 1960s, when he was organizing labor and political activists in Chicago, Saul Alinsky said: “Self-interest is the prime mover of people.” He recognized there are separate self-interests that are different from those of the group, and that they must be acknowledged. Suppressing them is counterproductive. There’s even a personal benefit in owning self-interest: Individually you achieve your better “self” when you find advantage in working well with others.
All told, dealing directly with self-interest reduces the time and energy that otherwise goes into the under-the-table advancing of individual agendas and political jockeying for personal recognition. This section Partnership Evolution presents four essential strategies to ensure that self-interests work for you, not against you:
- Acknowledge the Presence of Self-interests
- Own Your Own Interests
- Uncover Self-interests in Non-threatening Ways
- Integrate Individual Interests into the Partnership’s Work over Time