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One Surprising Way Leaders Can Deepen Relationships Today

leaders deepen relationships sara thomas

You’ve probably experienced a ropes course at some point in your life. You know that forced bonding experience where you spend more time trying to figure out “What can I possibly be learning from this contrived activity?” For many, it is a day that feels as long as that last sentence.

Like it or not, I have vivid memories of LEADING ropes courses. I loved watching teams work together. I also loved asking teams questions that helped provoke reflection.

Perhaps it was an early form of coaching?

Ergh, I can hope!

There’s got to be another way, right? How can leaders deepen relationships?

Whether or not you enjoy physical challenges that create group learning, they offer an important opportunity for connection. Specifically, a ropes course creates a shared struggle.

But to really deepen relationships you need to do one thing.

I wouldn’t be a very good coach if I didn’t ask you a question.

So here it is:

Are you perceived as responsive?

Well, how did you respond?

No qualifying statements are needed. Did you say yes or no? Either way, there is hope for you.

Turns out, responsiveness is the one way you can deepen relationships.

Allow me to illustrate.

There’s a little tag on the Transforming Mission Facebook page I manage that goes green when I am responsive to Facebook Messages. It looks like this:

deepening relationships as leaders Sara Thomas

I’ve quietly made it my quest to make that badge appear. That badge only appears when you are 100% responsive to messages. A friendly competition with myself never hurt anyone, right?

But, sometimes it goes away. And I try to figure out who I missed, how I failed to respond, or what silly change Facebook may have made.

The question of responsiveness goes beyond Facebook Messenger. It directly impacts the depth of relationship we have with others.

“Our relationships are stronger when we perceive that our partners are responsive to us.”¹ Let that sink in for a moment. Does your partner perceive you as responsive? And what do I mean by partner?

A partner is another person with whom you have a relationship. A partner may be a spouse, child, friend, colleague, neighbor, etc.

Here are three aspects of responsiveness identified by Harry T. Ries.  As you do, evaluate your own level of responsiveness.

1. Understanding

Understanding happens when your colleague knows how you see yourself and what is important to you. For leaders, here is an assessment question Gallup identified: Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

This is a question to assess the current level of understanding a person experiences. It speaks to understanding what is important to a colleague or direct report. The question also touches on caring that we’ll come to in a moment.

Think for a minute about the people you supervise and/or colleagues. If you’re leading a non-profit or church, this applies to your church leaders (chairs of committees, board of directors, positional leaders, people of influence).

Do you know…

  • what is important to them?
  • understand how they see themselves?

Do they know…

  • what is important to you?
  • understand how you see yourself?

Here are a few questions to deepen your understanding:

  • What matters to you?
  • Who was influential in you becoming a follower of Jesus?
  • Can you tell me about a time you made a commitment to Jesus?
  • What do you hope your relationship with Jesus, the church, and your community will be like in one year?
  • What does it mean to you to be a [insert role: pastor, board member, chair, leader, etc] in the [insert organization: church, non-profit, business, family]?

Remember, for a relationship to deepen, both parties need to perceive the responsiveness of the other person. Both of you participate in the process of sharing and listening. Understanding comes when someone knows what is important to you and how you see yourself.

2. Caring

Caring happens when someone takes active and supportive steps in helping you meet your needs. In addition to the above question, Gallup asks this: Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person? Again, this is an assessment question.

Think for a minute about one person you interact with daily. Here are a couple questions you could ask to be responsive through caring

  • What can I do to help you focus on what matters to you?
  • How can I support you in accomplishing your goals?

Again, the relationship deepens when these questions emerge in the context of your relationships and are reciprocal.

3. Validation

Validation happens when your partner respects who you are and what you want. The assessment question Gallup identified to explore validation is, “In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?

Pastors, no, this is not the comments after your sermon on Sunday. Why? Because there is no reciprocity.

  • Tell me about your hopes and dreams for the church (or replace with your organization name.)
  • What impact do you want our organization to make in the next year? three years?

Before you think, “Those questions are awfully selfish.” Remember, leaders deepen relationships by initiating the above conversations through responsiveness. As you do, you’ll create moments of connection with your team.

I’m wondering, which of the above elements (understanding, caring, or validation) come easiest to you? Let me know in the comments below.

  1. Chip and Dan Heath, The Power of Moments, p. 231.
  2.  Harry T. Reis, “Steps Toward the Ripening of Relationship Science”