When it comes to well-being and fulfillment — both personal and professional — relationships should rank at the top of our happiness must-have’s list. After all, we humans are wired to be social beings; and our physical, mental, and emotional health is tied to our ability to connect with others.
But building and preserving our relationships often falls down on (or even off of) our lists of must-do’s for a happy life.
Why do we take relationships for granted? One reason might lie in our assumptions: We assume relationships happen on their own whenever we’re in the presence of other people, and we accept that some people are naturally better than others at forming and sustaining interpersonal connections. (Find out what your unique talents suggest about how you relate to others.)
Science supports this thinking, but understanding why we naturally have relationships doesn’t mean we’re naturally equipped to make the most of them.
Another reason we might not give much attention to our relationships is the sheer volume of them. We have all kinds of relationships, from momentary ones to long-term, intimate ones. We have family relationships, love relationships, professional relationships, community relationships, friendships, acquaintances, and more. Each comes with its own set of dynamics: Some relationships are supportive, some are competitive; some are passive or accommodating, while others are aggressive or controlling.
With so many connections competing for our attention, it’s no wonder we’re likely to neglect at least some of them. Yet building long-lasting, healthy relationships is an essential skill for achieving satisfaction in our private lives and success in our professional ones.
How do we sift through the jumble of our daily interactions to focus on fostering relationships that add to our fulfillment and success? We can start with a basic understanding of the essential types of relationships and how our expectations of each type shape our interactions with others.
Understanding Types of Relationships
Our connections with others generally fall into three types: transactional relationships, interdependent relationships, and transformational relationships.
Imagine that these types of relationships fall on a straight line. At one end of the line sit transactional relationships, while transformational relationships are found at the other end. Interdependent relationships rest in the middle:
Transactional relationships offer a minimum level of connection between people and an equally minimum level of expectation among them. When you buy a hamburger at a drive-through, your interaction is limited to the back and forth of the ordering process and the exchange of money and goods (the hamburger). Neither you nor the drive-through employee expect much more from your interaction than reasonably getting through the transaction. Even if you stop at this drive-through frequently and recognize the employee, and even if the two of you engage in a friendly conversation, the relationship remains based on the simple transaction at hand.
We expect more in interdependent relationships, in which we share knowledge and goals with one or more people. Our expectations in these relationships are higher than in transactional relationships because we depend on someone else for mutual success. Whenever you are part of a team, even a team of two, you rely on (expect) other team members to provide the things you need — information or materials, for instance — in order for you and the team to achieve a shared objective. Any relationship in which parties mutually rely on one another falls into this category, from family bonds to workplace arrangements.
The hallmark of transformational relationships, on the other hand, is a lack of expectation.
Unlike transactional and interdependent relationships that are based on needs, transformational relationships spring from a desire to give. People in transformational relationships do not expect something in return when they interact with others; they expect only to give. They approach interactions with others as an opportunity to be open, honest, accountable, and even vulnerable, all in an effort to make deeper, more meaningful connections. A willingness to be present in a relationship, to listen and show respect, seek out different points of view, and admit mistakes elevates the relationship beyond necessity and creates trustworthiness.
Nurturing Powerful Partnerships
No one type of relationship is necessarily better than the other; it depends on circumstances. Given time constraints, it wouldn’t be easy to lift an encounter at a drive-through window from a transactional interaction to a transformational one, for example. But nurturing transformational relationships gives us the best opportunity to create the kinds of powerful partnerships that ultimately transform our personal and professional well-being for the better.
We’ll explore more about maintaining satisfying and successful relationships in our next installment of To the Top Tuesday. In the meantime, give some thought to the ways in which you might advance your relationships toward more meaningful connections. Ask yourself:
Which of my current relationships are transformational?
Do I find more meaning and fulfillment in my transformational relationships? Do those relationships transform me? How?
How might I better use my top talents to promote the development of transformational relationships, especially with the changes in the past few weeks?