Building relationships takes time. In fact, I believe they’re grown or cultivated more than built. They take time, care, patience and engagement, and without these things they will curl up and die, as anyone who has neglected a houseplant knows.
A healthy relationship requires mutuality and respect that is clear to all parties. In form, BC Hydro has taken the step toward corporate responsibility that fosters these kinds of relationships by hiring “Stakeholder Engagement Advisors.” Whether or not they culture meaningful relationships in the communities they serve is an open question.
The Nakusp boat ramp – and its continued neglect by BC Hydro – has been symbolic of the failure by the Crown corporation to engage with stakeholders (people who will be most affected and often have a high level of intelligence to contribute) in a meaningful way. But, like Nakusp Rod and Gun Club president Hank Scown told me last weekend, this latest willingness of Hydro to be part of efforts to make the Blue Knuckle Derby happen looks like a sign there may be hope yet for Nakusp and Hydro.
Of course, one shining moment of collaboration does not a good relationship make. It takes the repetition of evidence of not only goodwill but action, the building of a history of mutuality (and hey, we do our part, giving them water, land as well as monthly bill money). If this derby is used by Hydro only as a moment to shine and spin its image, then its real value will be lost. It’s very important to celebrate successes, to build on what is good, but frankly people could be forgiven for being skeptical of Hydro after the decades-long neglect of the Nakusp boat launch.
So what’s the difference between spin and celebrating successes? The ability to honestly recognize and effectively address where things have not worked, to endeavour to create ways that will allow them to work. In the case of Nakusp and Hydro, what keeps coming up again and again is a failure of communication.
It would be easy to blame and say that it’s all the corporation’s fault, but Hank was up front that the way the Rod and Gun Club had been communicating with them may not have been the best, that it would be better to have more regular communication rather than waiting until something wasn’t working and then reaching out in anger.
And what that takes is presence: being there, talking with people to find out what is important to them, what they value and what doesn’t work, finding commonalities and differences and building understanding. A very human approach to the human phenomenon of communication. It’s worth putting time into.