“How’s My Relating?” Using the Relational Grid for Building Better Relationships

Written by Guy Reichard

April 12, 2023

How We Do Relationships Matters

Whether in our personal lives or in the world of business, the importance of building healthy, strong, trusting relationships is vital to our wellbeing and to success.

But the patterns of behavior that we bring to our relationships are often unconscious and unexamined.

Through my own personal growth work over the years, I’ve found several models and tools that have been eye opening for me, as far as how I relate to myself and to others in relationship. Here’s one of them from therapist and author, Terry Real, called The Relationship (Relational) Grid.

We can use the Relational Grid to become more aware of our own patterns of behavior, and to recognize the patterns of those we interact with.

The Relational Grid consists of four quadrants and a Healthy Collaborative Center.

The vertical axis reflects our Self Esteem.

We can relate to others from a Grandiose, High & Mighty, Better Than Thou attitude and belief system (One Up) – all the way down to a Shame-infused, Worthless, ‘Less Than’ state of being (One Down).

The horizontal axis reflects our boundaries.

How open, expressive, personal and intimate can we be with others? From Boundaryless – saying and doing anything one feels and thinks and is urged to do – all the way to being Walled Off, Locked In, and avoiding connection.

At the center, we find the most effective orientation and level of openness for healthy, collaborative, connection. Healthy self-esteem and high regard for others combined with healthy boundaries, both protective and containing.

Protective boundaries set our limits with others and tells them how we want to be treated.

Containing boundaries keep things in that could be unnecessarily hurtful or violating of the other’s boundaries.

When relating with another person, we can either find ourselves near that healthy center or in one of these quadrants:

  • Boundaryless & One Up – at the extreme could be a Better Than Though Gushing Manipulator
  • Walled Off & One Up – at the extreme could be a Better Than Though Impenetrable Dictator
  • Walled Off & One Down – at the extreme could be a Less Than Though Despondent Observer
  • Boundaryless & One Down – at the extreme could be Less Than Though Submissive People-Pleaser

Each quadrant is the embodiment of an orientation and a set of rules put into motion. A way of seeing ourselves in relation to others, and a particular way of behaving towards others.

These aren’t who we are and how we always behave with everyone. We can typically be in one quadrant with one person and another quadrant with another person. Or we can switch quadrants based on a particular topic or issue.

Try to think about situations that trigger you, push your buttons and increase your stress levels.

By becoming more aware of our patterns, we can begin to make conscious choices about how we relate to others, both in the workplace and at home. We can identify the areas where we need to shift our orientation and behavior, and work towards healthier, more productive and effective ways of relating. This can lead to stronger, more fulfilling relationships, improved communication and collaboration, and ultimately, greater success in our personal and professional lives.

In any moment, you can ask yourself where am I on the Grid? Or “How’s My Relating?”

  • Am I being a stuck up, arrogant, oaf?
  • A desperate, clingy, manipulator?
  • Have I descended into hopelessness and cutting myself off from others?
  • Or am I gushing fury and vitriol on others without respecting their boundaries?

This tool helps us recognize our patterns. Though the origins of these patterns may come from our childhood and earliest relationships, seeing them in the present gives us the Power to Choose who and how we want to be today.

I won’t say it’s easy. It takes a lot of humility and the strength to be vulnerable so we can look at ourselves honestly and objectively. And it takes something greater than strength or humility to work on changing the patterns we’ve built into our wiring for decades. It takes love – for ourselves and for others.

No matter which quadrant you may find yourself in, whether it’s struggling with setting healthy boundaries or exhibiting behaviors of subservience or passivity or grandiosity and dominance, there are various areas we can work on to address these challenges to help you find your Healthy Collaborative Center and improve your Relational Skills.

If you choose to work with a Self Leadership Coach like myself, developing healthy boundaries and assertive communication skills would involve cultivating self-awareness, engaging in self-reflective practice, and prioritizing self-development. Here are some key elements that we could build on in coaching:

  • Self-Awareness: Gaining a deeper understanding of your beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors related to setting boundaries, communication, self-worth, and relationships. This may involve exploring your past experiences, triggers, and patterns of behavior that impact your leadership style and interactions with others.
  • Self-Reflection: Engaging in regular self-reflection practices, such as journaling, introspection, and self-assessment exercises, to increase awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in different situations. This can help you identify areas for improvement, recognize patterns, and gain insights into your strengths and areas for growth.
  • Self-Development: Engaging in intentional self-development activities to build skills, knowledge, and confidence in areas such as assertive communication, emotional regulation, decision-making, and self-care. This may involve setting goals, creating action plans, and practicing new behaviors to enhance your leadership effectiveness.
  • Accountability: Holding yourself accountable for your progress and taking responsibility for your actions and decisions. This may involve setting measurable goals, tracking progress, and reflecting on outcomes to continuously improve and make adjustments as needed.
  • Customizing the Approach: We would tailor the coaching approach to your unique needs, goals, and learning style. I would work with you to create a customized coaching plan that addresses your specific challenges and provide compassionate, nonjudgmental support, guidance, and feedback along the way.

If you’d rather go it alone for a while, here’s how you could use the Tool to build awareness and shift your relational style over time:

  • Self-Reflection & Awareness Building: Take some time to reflect on your own patterns of behavior in relationships. Consider how you relate to yourself and others, and which quadrant of the Relational Grid you tend to operate from in different situations or with different people.
  • Conscious Choices: Make conscious choices about how you relate to others. Identify areas where you may need to shift your orientation and behavior to move towards healthier, more productive, and effective ways of relating. This may involve finding a balance between being boundaryless and walled off, and being aware of your self-esteem and level of openness in relationships.
  • Reflective Inquiry: Ask yourself regularly, “Where am I on the Relational Grid? How’s my relating?” Use these questions to reflect on your behavior and mindset in different interactions, and assess whether you are operating from a healthy, balanced state of containing boundaries or if you are veering towards unhealthy patterns.
  • Self-Love and Empathy: Practice self-love and empathy towards yourself and others. Recognize that changing long-standing patterns of behavior may require humility, vulnerability, and self-compassion. Cultivate a mindset of love and respect towards yourself and others as you work towards healthier ways of relating.

Remember that changing patterns of behavior takes time and effort, and it’s a journey of personal growth. By becoming more aware of your relational patterns and making conscious choices, you can strive towards stronger, more fulfilling relationships, improved communication and collaboration, and ultimately, greater success in your personal and professional life.

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