This is part 3 of my 4 part series on understanding others in the context of your relationship with them utilizing the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).
- aids you in building a relationship with another person
- informs you where to look if the relationship isn’t working or is having problems
- helps you navigate through a relationship which could have important negative consequences for you if not handled well
- sets a standard for how you view the actions of another individual within the context of your relationship with that person.
The Basic Relationship Rule states:
Everyone always does the best they can in any situation given their psychological state, their model of the world and their skill sets.
Applying the BRR:
- facilitates your understanding others and yourself and
- is the key to building (or improving) your relationships
In this post, I will discuss the part of the BRR which asserts that the behavior that is observed is based in part on one’s Model of the World.
Recall that in my last post, I noted that, in the context of a relationship, the job of both parties is to move the relationship forward. This might involve improving the relationship or resolving conflict, completing some task at hand, etc.
Problems typically arise when one person in their attempt to complete the “job” doses something that is viewed, in the context of the relationship, as inappropriate.
I am suggesting that the BRR gives you a starting point to begin to understand the basis for the other person’s actions.
In deciding how you want to respond to any situation, you first need to do an assessment which includes”
- what is going on,
- what is needed to accomplish your goal in that situation and
- what tools are available.
The lens through which we determine what is going on around us is the Model we have, in our minds, for understanding our situation.
Let me give you two examples.
1. For most of my career, I was a staff psychologist in an institution run by the Department of Corrections-Juvenile Division. I had a collegial relationship with the other psychologists in the Institution. We interacted well and, when I perceived that something irregular occurred, I pointed it out.
When I promoted to Senior Psychologist, however, they reacted to me differently. I tried not to change who I was or how I interacted with my colleagues in terms of ethics, recognizing them as individuals and so forth but they clearly viewed me differently and their interactions with me changed. My Model of them had not changed from colleague to “boss” but their Model of me as “boss” clearly was different then their view of me as “colleague”.
2. As I write this, there are numerous stories in the news of what is viewed as excessive use of force by police. Whether or not the force used in each situation is excessive or not is not the issue here. That people have lost their lives in the course of an arrest clearly indicates that the actions of the police officer, in each case, stemmed from their Model of the situation and the behavior that was appropriate, in that situation, to deal with what was going on (to resolve or move the situation forward).
The implication is that the police will view you as a “citizen” if you are white and a “threat” if you are black.
In order to begin to make some sense about what explains the other person’s actions, you need to gain some insight into their Model of their world in that moment.
This model includes the assumptions they are making about:
- the context of the interaction
- gender issues
- race issues
- power issues
- safety issues
- task issues
- you, as an individual, within the context of the interaction
- context: work, home, business/professional, relating to a “clerk” in person, by computer, or over the phone, dealing with a service person such as tech support
- gender: beliefs about men and women and what is “appropriate” for each gender.
- power: work related including a boss to a subordinate, positional related such as a police officer to a citizen or a perpetrator or a doctor to a patient
- safety: what is the risk within the situation
- task: what is going on that may be related to accomplishing a specific task such as working on a project at work or at home with your kids
- you: are there some assumptions about you specifically including what type of person you are, how assertive you are, how needy you are and so forth.
Looking into how others perceive their relationship with you gives you an opportunity to look at how they perceive you and the situation and how the actions they’ve chosen to exhibit make sense to them.
Perhaps, their actions reflect a misunderstanding of something you have done or said, how they perceive themselves relative to you, or how they understand what is “appropriate” within the context of the current relationship. If this is the case, helping them change their perceptions may alleviate the challenge to the relationship.
One example might be a co-worker who violates a “personal boundary”. This boundary might be a physical boundary, an ethical boundary, a gender boundary, or a rule violation. The questions to ask yourself involving his model of the world include:
- Is he being aggressive and ignoring the “rules”?
- Has he misunderstood something you said or did?
- Is he unfamiliar with the rules?
- Is his model unjustified or is this a skill set issue where in he just does not know how to say what he wants?
A personal example:
When I promoted to Senior Psychologist, one of my staff was “clearly”, but not egregiously, violating the rules regarding time spent doing his job. I knew it and he knew it, but I couldn’t “prove” it, given the tools available to me at the time. So, calling it to his attention directly wouldn’t have been beneficial. As I was a new supervisor, I asked for some help from “headquarters”. It was suggested that I put out a general memo about the “rules” and include, at the bottom of the memo, some general “boiler plate” disclaimers that failure to follow the rules could result in “disciplinary actions”.
After the memo went out, one of my staff barged into my office and accused me of inappropriately “threatening” her with disciplinary action especially in light of her exemplary work history.
Now, I need to add that she was not the “target” of the memo and that I had never said anything negative about her. In fact, early on I had told her that she was a valuable asset to the department.
At first I was confused.
When I considered her actions from the point of view of her implied Model, I realized that her actions had very little to do with me, personally, and very much to do with her view of “supervisors” and her own sense of inadequacy.
Her Model reflected her view of “reality” as…
- “the Man” was unfair and “out to get her”.
- I was “the Man”
- her relationship with me was aggressive and self-protective
Once, I explained the “boiler plate” and reestablished that she was a competent and valued staff member, she was fine.
I do need to add that, after this incident, my Model of “headquarters” changed.
Another example might involve interacting with a police officer. Keeping in mind the implied Model of the World of someone whose job involves a risk to his/her safety and the inability to really “know” what the next person they interact with might do, if I am pulled over, I won’t do anything to raise a red flag. As an example, when I was younger, I used to think that it was a good idea to get out of the car when stopped so the officer could see me. When I had police officers as students in a class I was teaching, they explained that a person getting out of a car was viewed as a possible threat and advised to stay in the car with my hands on the steering wheel.
This is using their Model to insure that their interactions with me, in the context of our current relationship works out well for the both of us.
In summary, if your goal is to make the most out of your relationships with others, understanding and accommodating their behavior (when appropriate) is critical.
The first part of this understanding (discussed in my last post) was that they are doing their best.
The second part provides a context in which to interpret what they’ve done and this context involves their Model of the “World”.
Their actions reflect how they view you (their Model) and how this view impacts how they will interact with or relate to you (your relationship with them).
In my next and last post in the series, I will discuss the concept of skill sets.