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Guest Article: What Does “Being Relational” Mean?

Developing Better Relationships in Business

By Louise Phipps Senft

Being relational means living in relation to others in recognition of an interconnectedness with others. It means, in our interactions with others, being engaged, centered, grounded, clear, generous, humble and kind.

Each of these attributes has a “much more than meets the eye” quality.

A relational way of living involves taking an open, positive attitude into our interactions with everyone, assuming that they are acting out of good motives (or, at least, not assuming they’re acting out of malice) – and also that their failures might just be attributable to something that we could understand and relate to if we knew them as a well-loved friend. This holds for people we know well and those who are total strangers to us.

Additionally, living in a relational way calls us to interact with others in a manner that lets them know that we are going to treat them as we would treat a true friend – even in situations involving conflict, and even when they act in ways that threaten us, frighten us and trigger our reactivity. It means not responding with violence or using power to intimidate and control another person.

Being relational shows in the way we greet others, in the respect and consideration we demonstrate, in the way we don’t place our needs and desires above theirs, and in the way we seek to serve instead of be served.

Everything we do in relation to others and our world, every day – it all matters. No act or interaction is trivial.

We might just reduce this way of being to the Golden Rule – we treat others as we would have them treat us – but being relational goes well beyond that.

A positive relationship to another person is always valued and hoped for. And, being relational to our environment (fostering a positive relationship with all of creation) is always valued and hoped for, too.

Baltimore Mediation teaches that the core of being relational involves engaging in and fostering quality dialogue. In order to do that, we need self awareness of our own wounds, flaws and sources of reactivity, as well as compassion for others that comes from a willingness to recognize their wounds, flaws and sources of reactivity. We believe that the Enneagram offers helpful insight for gaining both self awareness and compassion toward others.

In contrast to a relational approach to life is what might be called a transactional approach – acting out of self interest and placing very little value on our relationship to the other person.

We are not just talking about actions that are clearly immoral and criminal – clearly, these do not place any value on a relationship with the victim of these acts. Rather, we are talking about all those moments in our lives when we choose to try to get the best of the situation at the expense of others or to the disregard of others.

A transactional approach views interactions with others as transactions where the goal is to get the maximum value for ourselves.

In many ways, our world today rewards and encourages a transactional approach and, thus, we get away with much aggressive, self-interested behavior. After all, with billions of people on the planet, we are much like anonymous actors. This means that most of the time, when we interact with another person, we can assume that we’ll never interact with them again. When faced with a choice about how to act in these situations, a coldly rational, logical choice would be to do whatever maximizes our self interest. The relationship with that other person is of no value and not a consideration. It’s like we are an economist, weighing risk and return and making a calculation to gain as much as possible.

Classic examples are a student cheating off another kid’s paper in school; a driver cutting in front of someone in traffic or running a red light; a shopper buying something, taking it home, using it and then returning it and asking for a full refund; the restaurant patron demanding great service and leaving no tip; a customer ignoring and never even making eye contact with a cashier. Many of these transactional actions are simply frowned at and ignored, and rarely do they have any immediate or even long-term consequences. But these acts erode the spirit of our community and when we are takers and not givers, it affects everyone around us.

The idea of competition is often used to justify a transactional approach. It might be said, “It’s a competitive world. Compete to get what you want and let the other guy compete to get what he wants – that’s fair right?” And, yes, competition is healthy in some contexts – like in sports and in business.

But competition is not a way of life, and being transactional is no way to live in a world where resources are scarce and need to be shared in order to meet the basic needs of every person.

Being relational is an approach to a life where we have more to think about than our material needs and desires; where the health of our soul increases with loving ourselves and other people; a world where it’s not about how much wealth and comfort and power we can acquire.

Our appreciation to Louise Phipps Senft for sharing her insights on our blog.

See Louise in person at our May 29th Drink ‘N Think, The Uncharted Edge for Leaders – Conflict Transformation. She will lead an in-depth discussion about responding to everyday conflict and managing difficult dialogues for positive results. Click here to reserve your spot!

Photo of Louise Phipps SenftAbout Our Guest Presenter: Honored as a top CEO by SmartCEO Magazine for her leadership of Baltimore Mediation, Louise Phipps Senft is the Founder & CEO of Baltimore Mediation, the first mediation firm in the state of Maryland. Voted “Baltimore’s Best Mediator” by Baltimore Magazine, three times named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women by The Daily Record and Baltimore’s “Most Spirited Woman” by the American Red Cross in 2011, Louise is also a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the Women Presidents’ Organization, a founding member of the international non-profit, Mediators Beyond Borders and sits on the Board of Trustees for Convergence. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, and former faculty at the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation Insight Initiative and President of the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution. For over 20 years, Louise has served as a pioneer in the field of alternative dispute resolution and is approved by the Association for Conflict Resolution to provide continuing education services nationwide on any mediation topic. Read more about Baltimore Mediation, Louise Phipps Senft and the Transformative Approach to fostering quality dialogue here.