The Relationship Paradigm

 Brilliant Sparks 
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     Understand the three types of relationships to help your business thrive.

Understand the three types of relationships to help your business thrive.

In interviewing dozens of business leaders, most struggle with what they call “people problems.” They struggle with communicating their ideas to their people so that obstacles can be overcome. They struggle with conversations with customers and clients. They struggle with conversations with vendors. In short they seemed to be struggling with communication. What if business leaders learned a bit more about some basic communication and relationship models? Would that assist them in the running of their businesses? I have found that the answer is “yes.”

Most of our relationships with people fall into three main categories. they are:

·      dominance

·      communal

·      tit-for tat

These three categories describe the settings we find ourselves in and dictate our communication strategies. What works in one, may not work in another. A brief description of each category will help to illustrate the point.


In this relationship, there is a clear boss. In the past, it was probably the biggest and strongest of the group. The biggest and strongest would establish that they were the biggest and strongest and the rest would fall in line. The pecking order was determined by the attributes according to each person’s size and strength.

Of course, this still persists. We learn from an early age to measure this in ourselves and in others. Whether it is the schoolyard or the boardroom, this constant measuring takes place. We all know that misreading the cues may have enormous consequences for us. Misread the cues on the playground and get pounded by the bully. Misread the cues in the Boardroom, and get fired.

Dominance is reflected in our language. “The golden rule – he with the most gold makes the rules” is a common theme recognizing the presence of dominance and how it plays out in our relationships.


This aspect dictated that in other groups, there is something other than dominance that we take into account in dealing with people. This aspect relates to kinship. Many times, people deal differently with their family than they do with others. People from similar backgrounds seek kinship. This is the stuff of protectionism, loyalty, and has been the bases for many businesses.

Although this line used to be drawn based on family inclusion, we are seeing this more and more as a sense of community. People becoming attuned to where they live and who lives in their community and drawing alliances on that basis has been going on for hundreds of years.

As people have become more mobile, now a majority or us has had the experience of being an outsider. I moved from Ann Arbor Michigan to Grand Rapids about 35 years ago. Although it was but a 120-mile trip to a city in the same state, to many I am still considered an “outsider.” Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids are very different cities and I am still somewhat surprised when I hear someone from “here” make it clear that this is not “Ann Arbor.” We seek to be accepted and we seek communality. There is safety in numbers, and one must be part of the numbers to feel the safety.

Communal has another aspect. Just as we can be part of a community based on geography, we can be part of a community of ideas. Never before has it been possible to find like-minded individuals. It has never been so easy to find a community. New entrepreneurs are making a living everyday forming their tribes on the internet…feeding them useful content and expanding their reach.

In fact, as we become more mobile, people are seeking these kinships of ideas as a safe harbor as they move around. Tribes of Democrats, Republicans, vegans, sailors, skateboarders, runners, model train fans all represent people forming groups toward a common purpose. And here is the point, businesses are being formed and tribes are being formed around a common purpose.

You do not have to search very far to find the following business-personal growth advice: “add value to people and you will reap its rewards” or “find your purpose and you will be dedicated and will reap your rewards” or “It all starts with your personal story.” People are looking and searching to find their places and many of them start to make their own places by forming a business.


This is simple. You scratch my back and I will scratch yours. This is the measure for measure relationship. If you do this work I will pay you this amount of money. If you give me this I will give you that.

This is the traditional stuff of business. In the past, this was the measure of business. Most did not have to buy in to Henry Ford’s idea of a car for every family in America as long as they could get good work for good pay. This is reflected in the old way we would look at work and business. People would go to trade school and learn a “trade.” Time for money. Skill for money. Effort for money. This is something we still struggle with. 94 million Americans are not even trying to find work and it is called “economic prosperity” and a “recovery.” All of these people have something to offer but they have given up, thinking that they have nothing to “trade”.

This is still part of most business models, it has to be. If we want to provide goods and services, we need help. People are willing to help but they need to live, they need a wage. Every one of my business leaders have to look long and hard at this one because the people that they need to assist them in their businesses are looking long and hard at this one.

There it is, the three main categories that describe our relationships and we use language within these relationships to live our lives and to run our businesses.


In the comments below, share your most powerful insight from this post about working relationships.

Brian Vincent has over 30 years of experience as a business law attorney and has worked extensively with business owners to protect and defend their interests.  Contact Brian  online or at (616) 608-4440 with your questions.