by Froswa’ Booker-Drew
I was fortunate to attend an Intensive at the Jean Baker Miller Institute on Relational Cultural Theory last summer in Boston. Started in the 60s and 70s by individuals such as Dr. Jean Baker Miller, Dr. Judith Jordan and others, Relational Cultural Theory is typically used in counseling but it is a wonderful instrument that can help individuals engage at a deeper level.
[box type=”info” align=”aligncenter” ]Relational Cultural Theory “is not forming a separated, independent self, but rather the ability to participate actively in relationships that foster the well-being of everyone involved (i.e. growth-fostering relationships.”[/box]
The theory teaches the source of human suffering is isolation and that the end to isolation is the creation of relationships and establishing high quality connections.
Relationships that last are cemented in high quality connections. Think about a time when you have met with someone who drained all of your energy. You are unable to explain what happened, but you walked (maybe even ran) to get away from the negative energy of the conversation. “Corrosive connections are like black holes; they absorb all the light in a system and give nothing back in return.”Our goal in connecting to others is to build relationships that are mutually beneficially. We should walk away wanting to reconnect, desiring to know someone better because of the positive experience we had in the interaction.
Judith Jordan, PhD and Amy Banks, MD have taken the work of Jean Baker Miller to another level by providing medical evidence of the value of connections. Dr. Amy Banks states that dopamine levels increase when we are in healthy, high quality relationships. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain and is responsible for the fight or flight response. This brain chemical drives a person to accomplish a goal. Often, we get this same rush through sex or eating but it also exists when we are experiencing healthy connections with others. Without becoming too scientific, I believe that some of their insights can be extremely helpful in our ability to connect in a positive way that is mutually beneficial. Dr. Jordan states, “Our entire well-being depends on being included, belonging and engaging in safe relationships and contributing to others.” This concept is the basis of growth fostering relationships. This statement should cause reflection in our daily interactions. Are you approachable? Would someone want to connect with you deeper when they first meet you?
In order to have enhanced connections, Dolley and Feedele (1997), state these concepts are helpful in building stronger connections:
So how does this relate to building relationships? In order to build positive relationships, empathy is important. Listening to a person’s story allows you to understand the position of an individual (where they are coming from). In this mode, it is more important to understand than to be understood. A colleague of mine does something that is priceless when he meets someone: He repeats their name and will ask them to tell their story. In doing so, he can find commonalities and even opportunities for synergy by listening. If we are truly honest, most of us enjoy having the floor to talk about ourselves. Allow people that space instead of jumping in first and giving your three-minute-rehearsed-in-the-mirror-elevator speech.
Mutuality is making sure that the relationship is beneficial. I hate when I meet someone for the first time and all they do is talk about themselves and what they need. They don’t give me a chance to say even a word!!!! If it isn’t a win-win situation for us both, why would I be interested in getting to know a person better? Mutuality is about creating a relationship based in respect. It is important to respect the other’s way of thinking and their time. It doesn’t mean that you must agree with everything but it is important to treat others the way you want to be treated.
I often hear people comment on encountering ‘fake’ individuals or people who are not who they say they are. Creating authentic relationships begins with you! How can you ensure that YOU are not projecting an image that you cannot live up to but one that is real, one that attracts other authentic individuals? In a world of so much plastic, it is refreshing to meet people who are comfortable in their skin. Become comfortable with your skills and gifts.
Lastly, but also equally important, is diversity. Examine your relationships. If everyone looks just like you, thinks like you and lives in the world the same way that you do, your network is too small. You are missing information that could be very helpful to your work. A few years ago, I conducted a research group comprised of very diverse women in age, ethnicity, and religion. Initially, when we started the group, the women introduced themselves by their titles and positions. After I asked that they reintroduce themselves again without the titles, stories were shared about their lives—the good, the bad and even the ugly. I learned through my research that in order to create relationships that last, people must have space that allows them to feel safe and comfortable. In addition, sharing one’s story allows others to listen and find more often commonalities than differences.
Our stories often reveal psychological capital—resilience, optimism, hope, and self-efficacy. And although they were different in so many ways, the human experience connected them. They all want their children to be happy. They all wanted to be successful at work. As a result of these opportunities to engage, the women built trust and then shared their relationships. Even after all this time, the women still spend time together helping each other in their personal and professional lives. This research became the basis of my book, Rules of Engagement: Making Connections Last. When people feel safe to be authentic, they will share and build trust no matter the difference. As our world becomes more global, this will be critical. Reach out and connect. When we don’t, we are not tapping into potential resources and building relationships that can become transformative for all involved.
Relational Cultural Theory is about building relationships that make a difference. So often, networking can be so self-focused. The goal of building relationships it to make sure that we are not creating transactional relationships but ones that are transformational. If you want to develop amazing relationships in your circle of influence, the goal is to create authentic encounters that are mutually beneficial!!!