Prioritize Your Numerous Levels of Relationships
In this article I’ll discuss the different levels of our relationships, managing change in relationships and the concept of balance in our relationships.
Let’s look at the different levels of our relationships. We develop relationships because we need other people, but those needs vary in relative strength and frequency.
We have no relationship with about five billion strangers — folks we don’t know, have made no investment in and expect no return. Our lowest-level relationships are with those individuals we recognize by face or know by name. We greet them and might even stop to listen when we see them on the street. We have probably 500 – 1,000 relationships at a face or name recognition level.
We also have higher-level relationships with neighbors, co-members of professional and social organizations. Many of us have as many as 100 – 200 relationships at this level. We gladly invest time and energy being sociable with these people. We attend meetings with them and will lend a helping hand should we become aware of a specific need.
We have yet higher social and working relationships – good friends and co-workers. And at even higher levels are those whom we work closely with, our best friends and perhaps our extended family. The very highest level is often our immediate family.
Obviously, the higher the level of the relationship, the greater the need for giving and getting. Therefore, the first thing we need to recognize as we look at the different levels of relationships is that we can make ongoing high-level investments of time and energy in only a limited number of relationships. The management field has recognized this for many years and has advised organizations to limit a manager’s span of control to a workable number.
One of the major causes of stress, anxiety, and poor performance both at work and at home is our efforts to maintain high-level relationships with too many people.
Good management calls for the manager to develop a closer working relationship with the supervisors or lead workers, to coach them and expect them to have a close working relationship with their workers. This does not mean the manager doesn’t relate to the workers, but only that the relationship be of a lower level.
Once when I was conducting a church management seminar at the Babcock School at Wake Forest University, as I was discussing the levels of relationships, a Methodist minister jumped from his chair and excitedly told us that now he could see what his problem was. He said he was losing his wife, losing his faith, and he was about to lose his sanity, but now he knew why. “I’m trying to have an eight-level (high) relationship with 637 parishioners!”
Of course, recognizing the problem is only the first step. Action planning is next. The minister made some firm action plans that included setting aside time for himself and his family and communicating his needs to his church members.
What often makes it difficult to limit our number of high-level relationships is that our relationships change. Perhaps the supervisor came up from the ranks. He was one of the guys. He wants to maintain that high-level relationship. The only way he can keep it, however, is to take the time and energy away from his supervisory responsibilities. Or he can work around the clock and take it away from his personal and family relationships. The minister may have come to that church when it had only 75 family units, but it tripled in size over 15 years.
Delegation and communication are frequently the tools needed to manage change in relationships. The good manager makes high investments in a few people who in turn work closely with others in the organization. By investing his or her time and energy coaching, communicating with, supporting, and helping those few, the good manager provides for others in his/her department the support they need to develop other high-level work relationships with others in the organization.
When changes in levels of relationships occur, they should be recognized and dealt with realistically. The more honest the communication, the more easily the change will be accepted.
For example, the supervisor might hold a group meeting for each work group and carefully explain the new role, responsibilities, and authority of the work leader for that group. It is essential that the supervisor also allow plenty of time to listen to and address workers’ questions and concerns regarding the change in roles.
In our personal lives our relationships also change. We need to limit our number of high-level relationships, and we need to recognize that relationships change. A third point regarding the levels of our relationships is that strong relationships require balance over time.
If in a relationship one person perceives he or she is giving at a high level but is not getting the expected return, the result is stress, anxiety, and unhappiness with the relationship.
On the other hand, sometimes we perceive we are investing at a high level, but we’re not investing what the other person really wants. This is another situation that calls for open communication.