Don't wait for the warning signs in your supplier relationship

Stefan Stern
10 February 2015

Patch things up don’t wait until the warning signs show your supplier relationship is in deep trouble

It’s not me, it’s you. That is not the way romantic attachments are supposed to end. But it describes how purchasers may feel when a supplier, literally and figuratively, fails to deliver.Most relationships, whether commercial or emotional, go wrong gradually. Eruptions of anger may come suddenly but they will have been months or years in the making. The Brits, rarely very good complainers, will grumble quietly for years before finally snapping and saying what they actually think.

The American psychologist John Gottman has identified what he calls “the four horseman of the apocalypse,” which signal that a relationship is in trouble. These are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. If your conversations with suppliers are marked by two or more of these qualities, the chances are the relationship is in a bad way.

Everyone deserves a second chance – just not necessarily a third, fourth or fifth one. But you, as a purchaser, are 50 per cent responsible for the relationships you have with suppliers. There has to be give and take, and you have at times to be able to see things from their point of view, even if you won’t want to admit that in a negotiation.

Some supplier relationships are doomed: cut them out and start again elsewhere. Some are failing and cannot be saved. But some could be rescued, and this is when you have to show just a bit of generosity and imagination to get things back on track.

Stefan Stern is visiting professor of management practice at Cass Business School

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