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It’s All About the Relationship: 5 Essential Components for Building Connections

“We have not yet learned how to be together”
Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science
At the recent ACEL national conference a reoccurring theme from just about all keynote speakers was the central importance of the quality of relationships to school leadership, to school improvement to teaching and learning – to just about everything that contributes to making schools work better. Of course, it’s critical for any coaching relationship too. It’s the very first part of the GCI Relationships to Results scaffold.

No surprises there really – we sort of get this. Life experience reminds us that relationship quality impacts our personal lives. The nightly news reminds us how relationship quality (or more often the lack of it) impacts wider national and international events. We also have some sense of what makes relationships work – communication skills, positive intentions, time and commitment. A different lens on all this is provided by a framework proposed by a UK based ‘think tank’ The Relationships Foundation.

The framework outlines five foundation elements that contribute to the quality of the connection that we experience with others. When these foundations are in place the likelihood of high quality connections with others is significantly enhanced.

These five foundation elements are described as:

1. Directness: the quality of the communication process.
This element covers such things as the amount of face to face time, the level of access to each other, the levels of openness and honesty. The more of this the better the quality of connection is likely to be.

2. Continuity: the amount of shared time over time.
This element includes the history of the relationship, the anticipated future of the relationship and the extent that it is more than a ‘one off’ or short term exchange. This is one aspect of coaching that is particularly helpful. Coaching provides a development approach that offers much more continuity that single workshops with no follow up support. This prospect of continuity in the relationship changes the dynamic considerably in positive ways.

3. Multiplexity: the breadth of knowledge of each other.
This element refers to the various different points of contact in any relationship. Greater breadth serves to enrich the connection and the level of understanding about what each person brings to the relationship. For example, If I work alongside someone and I also come across this person in another context outside work-at our childrens’ sporting events, for example, the relationship has greater breadth because of this additional point of contact.

4. Parity: the use of power in the relationship.
This is an important dimension in any coaching relationship as well as in any supervisory relationship, particularly when the supervisor is using a ‘coaching approach’ as a way of leading. Questions of power and how that is used (or misused) will have an important influence on the way in which any coaching unfolds. This element also addresses concepts like level of influence in the relationship of each paty and fairness.

5. Commonality: the extent of common goals and purposes
Common sense would suggest that when two people in a relationship are looking forward in the same direction, sharing a common purpose and goals, then the quality of that relationship will be enhanced considerably. Often this ‘commonality’ can be assumed or goals can change so it usually helps to keep making these things explicit. This does not mean however that high quality relationships can only occur between people that share common goals and interests. It is, however, important to acknowledge where differences might occur, to see differences in a positive light, as things to be expected and welcomed, and to manage them in constructive ways.

Relationships are at the heart of good leadership, good coaching and well, just about any context where people come together to get things done. Getting them ‘right is a never ending journey and the pathway is often tricky. These foundation elements can help provide a way to negotiate this pathway in helpful and positive ways.

For more information about the Relational Proximity framework please click here.

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