Book Excerpt: Relationship Mastery by David Fraser

The Need for Relationship Mastery

Mastery, in the context of this book, means the attainment of thorough knowledge or skill, and hints at a power that is controlled and used with wisdom and integrity, and a discipline that can be relied upon in good times and bad. Mastery alludes to openness to continued learning and a lifelong journey. What more appropriate word then to use for that most important of subjects—our ability to relate successfully to other people?

Most of us could have much more success and happiness at work and in our personal lives if we developed our relationship mastery and paid a bit more attention to the skills we use in our dealings with other people and the state of mind we bring to the process.

Those in the know have systematic ways to get along with other people. If you’re not aware of what they’re doing, their results can look like magic. Don’t be fooled—the methods they use are surprisingly quick, reliable, easy to learn, and latent in all of us.

For some people, learning these skills can feel like an impossible task, while others believe it to be a completed process. It’s neither, and yet these skills are one of the few things we can rely on in an ever-changing world. They can also save us a lot of time.

Not only are these skills easy to learn, they can be used in any situation. You don’t need to think “this is such-and-such a situation, so I have to use such-and-such a script.” You can have a system that is relevant whatever the circumstances—whether it involves your career or personal life, it makes little difference. Success at home and success at work go hand-in-hand. As Parker J. Palmer says in The Courage to Teach: “The personal can never be divorced from the professional.”

The classic book on interpersonal relationships is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which has been very widely read since its publication in 1937. Dale Carnegie refers to a study that found, after health, adults’ second interest is “how to understand and get along with people.” He had been “searching for years to discover a practical, working handbook on human relations” and since no such book existed, he wrote one, hoping that it would be liked. By 2006, more than 16 million people had liked it enough to buy it.

So why do we need another book? Well, more knowledge is at our disposal now, 70 or so years later, and there’s much more to offer in the way of suggestions for “use immediately in business, in social contacts, and in the home,” as the need was expressed all those years ago. Meanwhile, if you take a look around, it would seem that Dale Carnegie’s book hasn’t solved every problem in interpersonal relations, great job though he did, and perhaps the need is even greater now than it was then.

So what more can we do? Well, we have the understanding now to go a little deeper into what happens between people and gain enough insight to make proper sense of what is going on. Only then can we learn, understand, and act at just the right level of abstraction to be confident we are working in the full knowledge of what’s happening. Until we do look a bit closer, individually and collectively, and develop a deeper awareness and skill, our relationships aren’t going to get much better. We’re in the territory of Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence here, but we need something to tell us what to actually do. We need the “how.”

All sorts of people I speak to have found that dealing with others doesn’t go as smoothly as they would like. They would welcome some insight. Perhaps that’s your story too. I believe that not only does our ability to relate to other people determine much of what happens in our lives, it’s also one of the things we can most easily do something about, if we adopt an effective approach. Working on our relationship skills is an effective way to professional and personal success, and a vital part of our personal mastery—the name Peter Senge applied to our commitment to lifelong learning and, as he put it, the “discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision.”

Before we start on the details, however, we’d better address the question of how I, a Scottish engineer, got involved in all this. Haven’t I lost my way somewhere? Well, yes, I probably did go wrong, but in a different sense….

A starting point

The need to do a better job of getting along with people took a serious turn for me ten years ago after a conversation with my then boss. “David,” he said, “certain things you’re doing are holding you back, but I can’t tell you what they are.”

“Thanks very much, Bob. That’s really helpful,” I replied, as if it’s completely normal to be told you aren’t getting along with people as well as you need to, but not what to do about it. About that time, I was also described as both “difficult” and “not demanding enough.” I’ve been working on a systematic way of relating to other people ever since.

I’m pleased to report that feedback now is more positive. For example, a client recently told me: “One of the reasons things have worked so well is that you listen, understand the problem, and help us do our work. You get people to talk to each other who wouldn’t do that naturally.” That was on a large and complex project. Another added: “You’re never confrontational at all and are able to point people in the right direction without getting their backs up.”

A friend said: “You have moved from being a ‘tell’ person, to being an ‘ask and listen’ person. In particular, I notice that you are much more aware of the ebb and flow of attention between yourself and others, and aim to achieve an overall balance. I don’t think you paid attention to this when I first knew you.”

This book is about what has made the difference. With it, you can learn in a few months what has taken me ten years. Without it? Well, I wouldn’t want to go back there.

Before we go any further, I want to state that I am still perfectly capable of making a mess of things, especially at home. Let’s be clear though: The problems start when I don’t apply what I’ve learned, not when I do.

Reasons to get along with people

We need other people to be truly ourselves. Carl Jung

You might not be sure that getting along with people matters, but if we’re careless in the way we deal with other people, we so easily damage our prospects of success by causing irritation or resentment in those whose help we need to achieve our results—make the sale, agree the course of action, buy the service, complete the project, have the holiday we want, or whatever.

From the way many behave, it seems they’ve decided that getting along with people is less important than looking out for themselves, but paying attention to their dealings with other people is the very thing they need to do to make the most of their circumstances. If we go about disregarding the human dimension, we build up resistance against ourselves that makes it harder to achieve what we want to achieve. We can perhaps fight our way to what we want and some seem to prefer that approach, but it’s such hard work that our success will be limited by the energy required—it’s much easier to have people working with you rather than against you. From time to time, our objectives may be in tension or even conflict with what somebody else wants, but we’ll achieve a better outcome if we invest in the relationship despite the difficulty. Here are two examples:

From the example file“Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy—these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” (Jim Collins, Good to Great)

“‘Within Dell, Michael Dell was clearly a hero—a warm guy with good instincts for making people feel like part of a team.’ According to Forbes technology editor Elizabeth Corcoran, internal relationships needed rebuilding, and Dell was well placed to do just that.” (Director magazine, April 2009)

Formal authority isn’t enough

If you manage people in your work, you might think: “I can just tell them what I want, so why do I need to change my approach? Why do I need to worry about relationships when I have authority?”

Only a small proportion of the people you deal with report to you. Suppose you have the traditional span of control of about seven. You probably interact with at least 100 people altogether, so at most 10 percent of the people you need to relate to actually work for you. Authority is no help with bosses, peers, partners, customers, and most other interested parties.

Even with your own staff, you are likely to get better results using effective relationship skills. Relying only on your authority is expensive in goodwill and energy, and employees are less willing than in the past to subject themselves unconditionally to being managed. It’s much better to build personal power through relationship skills than rely on a finite positional authority you may not always have.

Progress happens when interests are balanced

Eventually, we need to organize around an outcome where interests are in balance. Progress happens in the middle ground. As individuals, we are vulnerable to a trap. If we’re at one of the extremes of an issue, we risk being left out of the solution. If we’re not careful, we become conditioned that tension and conflict are the norm and productive relationships secondary.

We need to avoid being led by the media and their love of an argument, the more polarizing the better. If we’re in the mood, we might be entertained, but we must take care not to adopt their behavior in our lives. (Of course, behind the scenes, media organizations themselves are dependent on people interacting effectively to deliver their output.)

We live in a complex world

Few of us work in traditional, hierarchical organizations. Most operate in complex environments with multiple internal and external relationships through which we achieve our results. Very few work settings have a clear unity of purpose that aligns all the contributors without tension. Much more usual is a coalition of interests to deliver a higher objective. For example, a complex alliance of budget holders, managers, administrators, consultants, hospital doctors, primary care professionals, nurses, auxiliaries, receptionists, porters, other paramedical specialists, and a variety of service providers all collaborate to deliver healthcare to the nation. Success for the individuals and the organizations depends on the relationship skills of all the participants, very few of whom have direct authority over one another.

Ways to get along with other people are poorly understood. Companies use phrases such as “relationship marketing,” “customer relationship management,” and “key account selling” often with little idea what that means person-to-person and few methods to help employees develop the implied people skills.

In our personal lives, we organize our affairs, raise our families, look after relatives, and pursue our leisure interests through a circle of people whose help we need to achieve what we want within the limited time and money we have available. Achieving anything significant in a family setting involves balancing opposed interests and finding common ground, just like at work.

Family life is tough going if we don’t get along

Relationship problems at home have the potential to dominate our lives. It’s hard to be successful at work if things are going badly elsewhere. Conventionally, we’re expected to keep our personal lives and our working lives apart, but really that is a nonsensical idea. Problems in our family lives have such a deep effect that we can hardly help but be distracted. Stable relationships at home with effective ways to resolve issues can help us greatly in being productive at work.

We can leverage our existing skills

One major benefit of improving our relationship skills is that it helps just about everything else we do because so much involves interacting with other people. The reward is higher than most other options for developing ourselves. Improving people skills is often said to be difficult, but with the right tools, it’s easy and inexpensive.

About the Book:

We could do a far better job of relating to other people and this book shows you how. The ability to relate to other people is the most critical skill a person can ever have—at work, at home, or anywhere else—and strong relationship skills simply make everything else easier. Relationship Mastery: A Business Professional’s Guide provides a reliable route to success you can apply over and over to improve your life in every area. Drawing on practical psychology, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), ancient wisdom, and first-hand experience of organizational life at all levels, David Fraser, PhD, reveals his powerful, systematic, and easy-to-learn formula for transforming your results with people—as used by the best in the business. To Learn More Please Visit:

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