How to relate well!
In our leadership workshops we often run a short energizer during which people pair up and take it in turns to try to persuade their partner to open their clench fist. What we have found over the years is that, although there is a 50/50 chance that a person will unclench their fist when asked to do so, around 75% simply follow the lead of the first person and do the same as they did, either unclenching their fist or refusing to do so.
The aim of the exercise is for people to see for themselves that we always have a choice when it comes to how we relate to others and when we do it well, everybody wins.
Relating well is not a gift or talent that some people have and others don’t, and neither is it a skill that needs to be practiced. It’s a choice that we make and when we do, one things leads to another!
Relating is actually a logical process and each step in the relating cycle involves a conscious choice. We can consciously choose to relate well, irrespective of circumstances, cultural differences, personal bias or other preconceived notions.
Relating well does not necessarily mean we agree with the other person’s perspective, share their personal values, or their goals. It means we seek to understand and accept that this is their point of view. In other words, relating is empathy in action.
Here’s a summary of each of the five steps that make up the relating cycle, all of which you will recognize because whether or not we are aware of it, we are all in the relating cycle when we choose to be.
Step 1: Valuing
From the very start we choose to value the other person. Valuing another person assigns worth and importance to them and is the foundation of good relating. It’s a choice to place them in high regard and give them significance. Assigning value to someone is what makes you fully present.
Step 2: Active Listening
Active listening is the result of the choice we make in step 1. It goes beyond the obvious auditory function of hearing, and even beyond the use of listening skills. Active Listening is about seeking to understand, as opposed to seeking to agree or disagree. Without the prior choice and commitment to value a person, you cannot hear them properly. Prejudices, preconceptions, attitudes, beliefs and values can interfere with active listening – it’s like static on the line.
Step 3: Understanding
You may or may not identify with their perspective, but you seek to understand it.
In the relating cycle, true understanding can only happen if we first place value on an individual by being present to hear beyond the words. Understanding simply means you have understood the other person’s perspective.
Step 4: Reaction
This is the only step in the relating cycle that is not a choice. We are all human and we all have inner reactions to what we see and hear around us. Being able to notice and to process this reaction is key. Just because we don’t like or agree with what we just heard, does not mean we have to react to it externally. We can instead seek to understand a different perspective, notice and process our own inner reaction, and then choose our response.
Step 5: Respond
When it comes to building relationships this is the most important step in the cycle because it is our ability to notice and regulate our inner reactions that enables us to choose an appropriate response. The other person may not see or perceive this, but they will perceive your understanding or lack of it through your responses. This is fundamentally important to everyone and, most of all, to leaders, because it is our ability to respond, as opposed to react, that enables others to relate well to us.
Co-founder of Hall & Grace