RELATIONSHIPS: the skills to develop them & their importance

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people”                                                    Theodore Roosevelt

“The test of one’s behaviour pattern is their relationship to society, relationship to work and relationship to sex”                              Alfred Adler

“The quality of your life is the quality of your relationships”    Anthony Robbins                                                                                                           

 The Importance of Relationships

In the seventies I began teaching ‘Personal, Social, Health Education’ to teenagers, “helping them acquire the knowledge and skills that they would need after leaving school.” (as expressed by Sir Alasdair Macdonald) and my decision had been prompted by my awareness that a very large and increasing number of students had not developed the skills to do this. Probably the most obvious symptom of their poor development of these skills was the inability of the students to manage relationships with seemingly almost everyone, other students, parents, teachers, support staff, social services etc. With sport being such an important part of my life I had long been aware of the importance of the relationship skills in effective teams and I probably began researching this even before I began teaching sport (P.E.).

The opportunities to study numerous questionnaires, have discussions and listen to hundreds of teenagers in the late seventies and early eighties provided clear evidence that ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’, was very applicable. These teenagers were very vulnerable (see the section on Vulnerable Young People) because they lacked the skills to form good relationships but they were motivated by:

Social (Love and Belonging)
We are social animals so need to feel loved, affection and that we belong. Friendships, romantic attachments, families can fulfil this need, but also involvement and acceptance among their social groups, clubs, workplace, religious groups, and gangs. We need to love and be loved, and are susceptible to loneliness.

We need to feel valued by others.and that they respect us i.e. care and consider our thoughts and feelings. We are susceptible to using criteria to compare ourselves that is superficial, transient and relatively unimportant.

As with the rest of the 8 skills these students (thousands of them) had not had the opportunity to have the thousands of hours of practice to develop these skills. As illustrated in my first book, “A Wonderful Life?”, the childhood of these teenagers had  been very different from previous generations with the quantity and quality of social interaction being much reduced.


In the early nineties I discovered the 1990 the Creative Education Foundation list of the skills desired by the Fortune 500 companies (see section on 21st Century skills) , which had teamwork top and interpersonal skills fifth:

  1. Teamwork
  2. Leadership
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Goal setting/Motivation
  5. Interpersonal Skills
  6. Writing
  7. Oral Communication
  8. Organizational Effectiveness
  9. Listening
  10. Computation
  11. Personal/Career Development
  12. Reading

This discovery only went to support the information I had been receiving for over a decade from employers and the media (particularly the Confederation of British Industries, CBI) that the students who had achieved academic (exam) success ,especially graduates) were very weak in the relationship (interpersonal) skills needed in most jobs.

 Interpersonal Intelligence (Howard Gardner)

The Howard Gardner’s 1983 book, “Frames of Mind” introduced his theory of multiple intelligences and had a huge impact internationally and myself. Although the term intelligence is continually disputed (as with the term skills) it clearly describes skills that allow us to communicate, interact, relate, and cooperate with others. The characteristics or traits that are shown by people who are interpersonally intelligent, or ‘people smart’ are that they mix well, enjoys group being with people and group activities, works well in teams and cooperates with others. Interpersonal intelligent people clearly have well developed relationship skills.

Paradigms of Interdependence (Stephen Covey)

One of the many reasons as to why Stephen Covey’s 1989 book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, had such a big influence on me (and others, I suspect)  is that it explained  how developing interpersonal skills is essential to becoming interdependent and an effective person. Part Three in the book, “Public Victory”, focuses on the three habits that require good development of relationship skills which are introduced with “Paradigms of Interdependence” and this quote from Samuel Johnson.

“There can be no friendship without confidence, and no confidence without integrity

I felt with this section and these 3 habits  that I was actually reading information gave some scientific and rational approach to developing effective relationships. His paradigm of interdependence emphasises the need to have developed the 8 skills to achieve habits 4, 5 and 6 (of course he does not mention them).

“Habits 1, 2, and 3. Independence is an achievement. Interdependence is a choice only independent people can make. Unless we are willing to achieve real independence, it’s foolish to try to develop human-relations skills. We might try. We might even have some degree of success when the sun is shining. But when the difficult times come — and they will — we won’t have the foundation to keep things together.

The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are. And if our words and our actions come from superficial human-relations techniques (the personality ethic) rather than from our own inner core (the character ethic), others will sense that duplicity. We simply won’t be able to create and sustain the foundation necessary for effective interdependence.

The techniques and skills that really make a difference in human interaction are the ones that almost naturally flow from a truly independent character. So the place to begin building any relationship is inside ourselves, inside our Circle of Influence, our own character. As we become independent –proactive, centered in correct principles, value driven and able to organize and execute around the priorities in our life with integrity — we then can choose to become interdependent — capable of building rich, enduring, highly productive relationships with other people.”

In recent years, Simon Sinek, has been emphasising a similar approach to developing effective relationships as Stephen Covey in trying to convey that investing in openness, honesty and fairness is essential. Covey introduces a very clever approach to convey this with the Emotional Bank Account.

“In an interdependent situation, the golden eggs are the effectiveness, the wonderful synergy, the results created by open communication and positive interaction with others. And to get those eggs on a regular basis, we need to take care of the goose. We need to create and care for the relationships that make those results realities.

So before we descend from our point of reconnaissance and get into Habits 4, 5, and 6, I would like to introduce what I believe to be a very powerful metaphor in describing relationships and in defining the P/PC Balance in an interdependent reality.

We all know what a financial bank account is. We make deposits into it and build up a reserve from which we can make withdrawals when we need to. An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship. It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.

If I make deposits into an Emotional Bank Account with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you, I build up a reserve. Your trust toward me becomes higher, and I can call upon that trust many times if I need to. I can even make mistakes and that trust level, that emotional reserve, will compensate for it. My communication may not be clear, but you’ll get my meaning anyway. You won’t make me “an offender for a word.” When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.

But if I have a habit of showing discourtesy, disrespect, cutting you off, overreacting, ignoring you, becoming arbitrary, betraying your trust, threatening you, or playing little tin god in your life, eventually my Emotional Bank Account is overdrawn. The trust level gets very low. Then what flexibility do I have?”

The strength of the metaphor of the Emotional Bank Account provides a simple but effective way of how being open, honest and fair is so important to any quality relationship and without the skills to do this we will struggle to have any positive relationships. A crucial part of this metaphor is that good relationships have to be built, which takes time (no quick fix) and lots of ‘deposits’, which a positive behaviours, investments into the relationship.

There are six major deposits we can make to the emotional bank account:

  1. Understanding the individual.Good relationships require us to learn what is important to the other person so that we understand them deeply and then treat them in terms of their views and values.
  2. Attend to the little things,which will actually become big things in relationships.
  3. Keep commitments.Breaking a promise will have a devastating effect a relationship.
  4. Clarify expectations.Communication breakdown is invariably present in all relationship difficulties, so investing time and effort to avoid ambiguous and conflicting expectations around objectives and roles will pay dividends.
  5. Show personal integrity.Central to good relationships is trust, and any dishonesty undermines it. Integrity requires conforming our actions to our words, keeping our promises and fulfilling what is expectations.
  6. Apologize sincerely when you make a withdrawalSincere apologies are deposits, but repeated apologies are interpreted as insincere, resulting in withdrawals. Saying ‘sorry’ and meaning it is central to good relationships.

Early in the eighties I realised (from my research) that being “Open, Honest and Fair” was central to any good relationship and it became my personal mantra, so discovering Stephen Covey’s approach was a huge boost to this. These six major deposits require good development in the 8 skills to occur and helps to explain why building good relationships is so difficult for many people. Furthermore, the habits 4, 5 and 6 helps to explain that poor development in the 8 skills prevents them from achieving effective interdependence.

Habit 4: Think win-win – Principles of Interpersonal Leadership

“Think Win-Win is the habit of interpersonal leadership. It involves the exercise of each of the unique human endowments — self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will — in our relationships with others. It involves mutual learning, mutual influence, mutual benefits. It takes great courage as well as consideration to create these mutual benefits, particularly if we’re interacting with others who are deeply scripted in Win-Lose.” (page 216)

Clearly to achieve this habit the good development in the skills (referred to as endowments) of self-awareness, self-management, empathy and  relationships. In fact Covey identifies ‘Character’ as the foundation of win-win, explain that it involves our need to develop integrity, maturity (the balance between courage and consideration) and abundance mentality (there is plenty for everyone).

 Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood – Principle of Empathic Communication

“Communication is the most important skill in life. We spend most of our waking hours communicating. But consider this: You’ve spent years learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training or education have you had that enables you to listen so that you really, deeply understand another human being from that individual’s own frame of reference?” (page 236)

This habit is basically developing the skill of empathy and dealt with in more detail in the section on empathy.

 Habit 6: Synergize – Principles of Creative Cooperation

“What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.” (page 262)

This habit deals with teamwork and opening yourself emotionally to work with other people. Synergize means we have learnt to value and appreciate differences or disagreements within a group and view them as beneficial and seek to understand why the difference exists.

“Synergy is exciting. Creativity is exciting. It’s phenomenal what openness and communication can produce. The possibilities of truly significant gain, of significant improvement are so real that it’s worth the risk such openness entails.” (page 269)

The habit of synergy clearly requires very good development in relationship skills and links very closely with the approach in another brilliant book from the business world, “The Fifth Discipline.”

The Fifth Discipline (Peter Senge)

This book published in 1990, written by Peter Senge, an American systems scientist and senior lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has the full title of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice Of The Learning Organization. It focuses on group problem solving using systems thinking to convert companies into learning organizations, which is briefly explained on page 3:

 “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”

This means creating organizations that “Synergise”, so that they are flexible, adaptable, innovative, effective and productive which can excel in situations of rapid change which occurs in the modern developed world. Peter Senge continues to explain that these learning organizations are more common than we imagine.

“Learning organizations are possible because not only is it our nature to learn but we love to learn. Most of us at one time or another have been part of a great “team,” a group of people who functioned together in an extraordinary way— who trusted one another, who complemented each others’ strengths and compensated for each others’ limitations, who had common goals that were larger than individual goals, and who produced extraordinary results.” (page 3)

This extract illustrates how learning organizations depend on good development of relationship skills and the following extract emphasises that if achieved it becomes a remarkable experience.

When you ask people about what it is like being part of a great team, what is most striking is the meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It become quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit. (page 13)

For learning organizations to happen, Senge explains that Five Disciplines need to occur, which basically will be determined by the level of development of the 8 skills (of course, he does not mention this)

1.Personal mastery –“is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.”

2. Mental models – “are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action… The discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny. It also includes the ability to carry on “learningful” conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others.

3. Building shared vision – “The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared “pictures of the future” that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. In mastering this discipline, leaders learn the counterproductiveness of trying to dictate a vision, no matter how heartfelt.”

4. Team Learning“The discipline of team learning starts with “dialogue,” the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine ‘thinking together.’ To the Greeks dia-logos meant a free-flowing of meaning through a group, allowing the group to discover insights not attainable individually… The discipline of dialogue also involves learning how to recognize the patterns of interaction in teams that undermine learning.

5. Systems Thinking – “is the fifth discipline. It is the discipline that integrates the disciplines, fusing them into a coherent body of theory and practice. It keeps them from being separate gimmicks or the latest organization change fads. Without a systemic orientation, there is no motivation to look at how the disciplines interrelate. By enhancing each of the other disciplines, it continually reminds us that the whole can exceed the sum of its parts.”

Each of these disciplines clearly requires a certain level of development in several, if not all, of the 8 skills some of which are probably more obvious than others.

Personal mastery –“continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, focusing our energies, developing patience, seeing reality objectively.”

Needs good development of Effective Learning, Cognition, Self-awareness and Self-management.

 Mental models – “deeply ingrained assumptions, how we understand the world and  how we take action… turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth  our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold  them rigorously to scrutiny. carry on “learningful” conversations, inquiry and advocacy, expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others.

Needs good development in Effective Learning, Communication, Cognition, Self-awareness, Relationship skills.

Building shared vision – “skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’, genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. learn the counterproductiveness of trying to dictate a vision.”

Needs Effective Learning, Communication, Cognition, Self-awareness, Self-mangement, Relationship skills.

Team Learningdialogue, suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine ‘thinking  together.’ group to discover insights not attainable individually, learning how to recognize the patterns of interaction in teams that undermine learning”

Needs good development in Effective Learning, Communication, Empathy, Relationship skills.

Systems Thinking – “integrates the disciplines, Without a systemic orientation, there is no motivation to look at how the disciplines interrelate. the whole can exceed the   sum of its parts.”

Needs good development in Effective Learning, Communication, Cognition, Relationship skills.

Probably the huge popularity of this book is that it provides a clear practical approach as to how organizations can become effective teams, unfortunately, as with the 7 Habits, it is not offering a ‘Quick Fix’. Hopefully, it is now obvious that creating a learning organization is very dependent on the development of the 8 skills and Relationship skills in particular.

 Measuring Relationship Skills

            I suppose I began my research into measuring relationship skills when I began teaching and having to write reports on the students, sadly at that time I had no access to any assessments of them. However, in recent years, there has been a real growth in attempts to measure relationship skills in several areas.

Business – the importance and emphasis on relationship skills in business as illustrated by the 7 Habits and The Fifth Discipline has been enormous in last few decades. Business schools have been developing a variety of checklists and assessments to measure these skills and in 2014 the Global consultancy firm Hay Group launched an app to help develop social skills 

 Early Years – The development of social skills in our early years has been shown to be a large factor in our life chances, consequently the assessment and measurement of them has expanded in recent years as shown by this extract from Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in the UK.

Early Learning Goal 08 – Making relationships:

  • Children play cooperatively, taking turns with others.
  • They take account of one another’s ideas about how to organise their activity.
  • They show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings, and form positive relationships with adults and other children.

Explanatory note:

  • The child plays co-operatively in a group, sharing and taking turns.
  • When playing together with others, the child usually responds in a friendly and kind way, listening to other children’s ideas and points of view.
  • The child interacts positively with other children and adults.

Education – In the U.S. the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a leading organization advancing the development of academic, social and emotional competence for all students, aims to help make evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education from preschool through high school. They and other similar organizations have created many resources to develop and measure these skills, an example of which is shown below from 2007 in the UK, Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning for secondary schools (SEAL), Tools for profiling, monitoring and evaluation, final section.

Adult rating scale: Social skills (overall outcomes)

Indicate how well you believe the pupils in your class achieve the outcomes.

1             –          have taken the first step towards achieving this outcome

10           –          have achieved this fully

  1. Pupils can communicate effectively with others, listening to what others say

as well as expressing their own thoughts and feelings.

  1. Pupils can take others’ thoughts and feelings into account in how they manage their relationships.
  1. Pupils can assess risks and consider the issues involved before making decisions about their personal relationships.
  1. Pupils can make, sustain and break friendships without hurting others.
  2. Pupils can work and learn well in groups, taking on different roles cooperating with others to achieve a joint outcome.
  1. Pupils understand their rights and responsibilities as individuals who belong

to many different social groups, such as their friendship group, school class, school, family, and community.

  1. Pupils can achieve an appropriate level of independence from others, charting and following their own course while maintaining positive relationships with others.
  1. Pupils can give and receive feedback and use it to improve their and other people’s achievements.
  1. Pupils can use a range of strategies to solve problems and know how to resolve conflicts with other people such as mediation and conflict resolution.
  2. Pupils can monitor the effectiveness of different problem-solving strategies and use their experiences to help them to choose their behaviour and make decisions.
  1. Pupils have strategies for repairing damaged relationships.
  2. Pupils can be assertive when appropriate.

For many years I have been experimenting with different measures of relationship skills and for over a decade I have used the measurement below that has been simple to use and effective.


Relationship/Social Skills
Works and learns well in groups and teams, taking on different roles, cooperating with others to achieve a joint outcome.
Displays an appropriate level of independence from others, while maintaining positive relationships with others.
Gives and receives feedback and uses their experiences to help make decisions to improve their and other people’s achievements
These people will:-

·         ‘Get on’ with lots of very varied people.

·         Put the team before themselves.

·         Will not ‘bitch or slag off’ others.

·         Make very good employees despite poor leadership.

·         Try to support others and be comfortable with support

·         Seen as a leader by many people.


10 – DEFINITELY/EXCELLENT-                       OCCURS ALL OF THE TIME   

8 –   VERY GOOD –                                         OCCURS MOST OF THE TIME

6 –   FAIRLY GOOD –                                      OCCURS SOME OF THE TIME

4 –   O.K.-                           –                            OCCURS OCCASIONALLY        

2 –   VERY WEAK –                                          OCCURS RARELY

0 –   NO –                                                        DOES NOT OCCUR AT ALL