This is part 2 of the Relationship Primer series. In the last post, we defined what a relationship is and discussed three categories of relationships.
In part 2, I discuss the attributes of a relationship.
You can gain a better understanding of a relationship in terms of the function the relationship serves, what sustains it, what accounts for one’s actions within the relationship, or what might account for the relationship becoming unstable or problematic by taking a closer look at the attributes of the relationship.
The attributes of a relationship work across all three categories discussed in the last post.
The attributes of a relationship include:.
- The context (including time frames) in which the relationship exists.
- The rules (explicit or implicit) that apply to the relationship.
- The expectations you and the other person bring to the relationship
- Miscellaneous factors such as gender, power differences, age, and elements unique to each individual such as interpersonal skill sets and self-image.
The context of a relationship is the setting in which that relationship occurs. Some examples of context include..
- your work,
- a business such as a store or an airport counter,
- a governmental office,
- an official phone contact including tech support, making an appointment, or placing an order
- ordering food at a “sit-down” restaurant
- a school,
- starting a conversation with a stranger
- a party
- a “blind” date
A rule is an explicit (stated or written) or implicit (implied or understood) regulation, mandate or principle governing conduct within a particular setting.
Explicit rules include:
- codes including ethics
- parental “mandates” which apply to kids
Implicit rules include:
- precedents (as in “the way things are done around here”)
- implied guidelines (as in “this is the way you deal with that boss”)
If you don’t know the rules that exist within a given context or setting, you are more likely to “cross the line” and be perceived as acting inappropriately. This can lead to conflict.
If the rules are explicit, as in written policies, laws, mandates or ethics codes, it is reasonable to assume that others within your setting are familiar with, will understand, and will act according to those rules. Or, if their actions violate a given rule, informing them that a rule exists should be sufficient to produce a change in their behavior.
If you know the rules, you expect others to act in accordance with the rules and you “judge” or label the behavior of others as “right” or “wrong” based on whether that behavior conforms to or violates the rules.
Context and rules often determine the expectations that participants have about how they and the other person in the relationship should act.
An expectation is a future prediction about what we believe will happen and, more importantly, what we believe is required to happen (based on whatever criteria are being applied).
Please note that an expectation involves…
- our prediction regarding what will happen in the future and
- our statement of what is required to take place.
What makes expectations so critical is the belief, expressed as an expectation, that another person is obligated or required to act in accordance with the expectation.
So, if I expect you to do something and you do not, I perceive you as violating some norm or rule. It is this perceived violation that elicits my anger, displeasure, criticism, or desire to punish or correct the violation.
One’s expectations are often the basis for misunderstandings and conflict in relationships!
Sometimes, we are aware of our expectations. For example, we expect our server at the restaurant to be polite and attentive. If the restaurant is not busy, we expect our coffee to be refilled as frequently as needed. If the restaurant is busy, our expectations change accordingly. If our coffee gets cold and is “never” refilled. Our displeasure is clear, our expectations have not been met and the tip we may leave might reflect this displeasure.
At other times, we may not be explicitly aware of our expectations but someone does something and we are surprised at what we see. This “surprise” is an indication that an expectation has either not been met or has been exceeded.
Our expectations impact our emotions and our actions whether we are aware of them or not.
Sometimes, there can be a conflict between the expectations of the participants in a relationship.
When I was working as a Psychologist in a juvenile correctional facility, I wrote a report in which my “recommendation” was in direct conflict with what the Institutional team was recommending. The Superintendent called me into his office and berated me for “not being a team player”. His expectation was that I, as a team player, would go along with the team’s recommendation. I agreed with him about, and assured him that, I was a “team player”. In this instance, however, I had a higher standard I had to meet. My psychological data led to a different conclusion and I had an “ethical” responsibility to follow my data. My personal expectation was that, when ethics trumped loyalty, I would be ethical.
Another example is when a boss might expect that he (or she) can “take advantage” of a subordinate who “expects” to be treated with respect. The “me-to” movement is beginning to address this “injustice”.
Finally, there are other (miscellaneous) factors which can impact a relationship. Miscellaneous factors may impact the “expectations” each participant brings to the relationship.
Miscellaneous factors include:
- gender (or gender identification)
- power differences (when one’s position involves the ability to negatively impact a subordinate and this “power” is used to exploit a subordinate)
- each participant’s model of the world (one’s model of the world is a general view of “the way things are in the world”or “the way things should be in the world” regarding right and wrong, interpersonal relationships, honesty, values, appropriate vs inappropriate actions, and so forth)
- skill sets (These are the abilities that each person has including assertive skills, problem solving skills, and communication skills.)
- the self-image of each participant (This is the picture one has of oneself and includes self-confidence, one’s place in the world, how one relates to others, one’s sense of entitlement and so forth.)
In the next post, I will look at an example of an interaction which touches upon the concepts of mastering emotions and relationship issues (reacting with another person).
Relationship Tips #1 and #2 address mastering emotions and will be covered in a later post as will Tips #3 and #4 which look more specifically maximizing your interactions with another person.
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