Few people have thought as deeply about how partnerships work as social historian Riane Eisler. The cofounder and codirector of the Center for Partnership Studies, based in Pacific Grove, California, Eisler has devoted the past 30 years to developing and promoting the idea and the practice of partnership.
In books such as "The Chalice and the Blade" (HarperCollins, 1988) and "The Partnership Way" (Holistic Education Press, 1998, cowritten by David Loye), Eisler argues that history is a struggle between two ways of structuring relationships: a "dominator model," which is stifling and authoritarian, and a "partnership model," which encourages creativity. She consults widely; her clients include some of the country's largest companies.
In an interview with Fast Company, Eisler discussed the three most common myths about partnership.
Myth #1 Partnerships Don't Have Hierarchies.
"People often think that having a partnership means being 'nice.' It doesn't. There are hierarchies in a partnership, but they are hierarchies of 'actualization' rather than domination. Conflict isn't squashed. People are heard. Differences of opinion are respected. In the dominator model, conflict is either repressed or put down violently. People who are different are considered inferior and are expected to submit to authority."
Myth #2 Partnerships Always Require Consensus.
"Consensus can be a disaster. If one person unreasonably holds up a decision, he or she, in effect, becomes a dominator.
"Partnerships are not completely flat organizations. They do have leaders — but those leaders play multiple roles. They take turns assuming leadership for tasks where their knowledge and ability apply. They don't issue orders that people must obey without question; they inspire and facilitate."
Myth #3 Partners Don't Compete.
"Competition exists in partnerships, but it isn't adversarial. Instead, the emphasis is on achievement: People compete not to destroy their rivals but to raise standards and to spur themselves to excel. In the dominator paradigm, the point of life is to win and to control. In a partnership, the idea is to create — a much more basic human desire.
"Of course, no society, business, or family conforms perfectly to the partnership model. Most of us have been brought up to see the dominator model as normal, so we struggle to shed its traditions and assumptions. Habits and patterns don't change overnight. But we are moving closer to the partnership model than ever before."
For more information about the Center for Partnership Studies, visit the Web (www.partnershipway.org) or send email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A version of this article appeared in the November 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.