Strong relationships facilitate effective communication

When we meet a person and establish a relationship with them it’s quite common to get a touch of excitement, although I’m not so sure if that happens as much when we’re simply interacting online through social media.

Developing a relationship takes time, effort and know-how. Bradberry & Greaves in their book Emotional Intelligence 2 suggest that ‘know-how’ is emotional intelligence. Michael Schluter has written extensively about ‘relationships’. In his book The Relational Manager (co-written with David Lee) he identifies the conditions that allow relationships to build rather than deteriorate. He asserts these conditions must be present for relationships to thrive: encounter, storyline, knowledge, fairness, and alignment. The authors sum these conditions as being about ‘relational proximity’.

I’ve observed these conditions being exercised in a series of twenty-six care and nursing homes, where the measure of the staff’s effectiveness wasn’t the amount of time they were ‘on the floor’ but on the strength of the relationships between carers and residents. Strong relationships deliver a wide range of benefits to all parties.

Let me sum up Schluter and Lee’s explanation of these conditions:

Encounter is about the directness of contact (face to face being the most direct). It stimulates openness and disclosure and gives people time to raise all kinds of questions and problems reducing misunderstandings. The sense of connecting, of experiencing the unmediated presence of another person, is both a deep human need and a vital support for effective communication.

Storyline is about the continuity of relationship over time. For instance, if you don’t see customers enough, you know less about them. As a result, you can’t meet their needs with the required precision, and they don’t feel cared for. A strong relationship is one in which the participants can look back down the timeline and identify shared story. That story, in turn, lends significance to present encounters and establishes expectations for the future. Such continuity brings significant benefits in terms of trust, understanding and a sense of belonging.

Knowledge is about the depth of shared information. Knowing another person across different occasions and in different contexts gives relationships extra strength. Continuity over time naturally tends to deepen relationships. It does this by building up multiplexity – layers of connections between two individuals that operate in different spheres (work, leisure) but are nonetheless mutually reinforcing.

Fairness is about an emphasis on parity and mutual respect. Where parity exists, it establishes a rationale for engagement and investment in a relationship. Where it doesn’t, and where risk and return are not equitably distributed in a relationship, the result is likely to be disengagement. The grounds for respect have to be real, but there are many different scales on which status, power and influence can be measured – financial, political, intellectual, hierarchical and charismatic – and the perception of parity will involve some conscious and unconscious trade-offs between these different scales. Lack of mutual respect can cause systematic as well as interpersonal problems.

Alignment is about the extent to which purpose and identity are shared. In the workplace, building a sense of shared identity and constructing a set of genuinely shared objectives, both enhances communication between company employees and drives productivity. It’s about having things in common, working towards shared goals. Where relationships in an organisation are characterised by shared purpose, petty annoyances and interpersonal rivalries proportionately lose their influence.

Schluter and Lee say relationships rarely break down where relational proximity is truly present. Almost always, discord indicates not an excess of relational proximity but some aspect of it is weak or missing. In any relationship you participate in, these dimensions constitute five variables you can adjust in order to maximise the chances of the relationship strengthening. (Their book is all about how to do this!)

Things to consider when developing relationships ...

Encounter: Think of all the relationships you have. How many would benefit from setting time aside to meet face to face with people? When you do meet face to face are you excluding interruptions and distractions? What benefits might result from closer encounters?

Storyline: Think of all the ways you already communicate with people. How are these contributing to the continuity of individual relationships? Are there things you need to do to maintain and strengthen links with some contacts who seem to be drifting away?

Knowledge: Think about all the different scenarios in which you meet people. Are you proactively using these to strengthen relationships? Might an opportunity to meet in a different sphere contribute significantly to greater knowledge about the other person?

Fairness: Think about the culture in which you live and work. Does it engender mutual respect? How easy do you find it to work and communicate with people who are different to yourself? What things could you do to build mutual respect into your relationships?

Alignment: Think about the vision and aims of your organisation, club or family. Firstly, are they clear? How well do you and your colleagues or family know, understand and share them? What could you do to develop your own understanding and share that with others?

Once again, the need to be proactive leaps out. There are lots of things around which might be perceived as challenges, but, if we break the task down into smaller steps then it really is amazing what can be achieved.

What are the biggest challenges you are facing when developing relationships? If you want to communicate more effectively how might strengthening relationships work for you?

To share your thoughts on this topic follow this link: Strong relationships facilitate effective communication

Share my experience

This site is dedicated to helping you communicate more effectively and benefit from the experience and skills I've built up over a lifetime working as a broadcast journalist and public relations consultant in the communications industry.