Building Exceptional Relationships - with Dr. Carole Robin

Framework curated by Luke DeCoste, Entrepreneur-in-Residence and MindFrame Connect Advisor

Dr. Carole Robin’s life changing and transformational work on interpersonal relationships has started a movement in Silicon Valley and around the world. She has spent decades refining methods for building exceptional relationships while working with entrepreneurs and innovators at Stanford University, YCombinator, and Google. She recently shared some of her straight-forward frameworks for building relationships in an interview with MindFrame Connect.

Despite the importance of strong relationships, few of us are taught how to intentionally improve them. Dr. Robin wants founders to know that by developing specific skills you can intentionally move relationships along a continuum from dysfunctional to exceptional.

Interpersonal Relationships Matter

For entrepreneurs, relationships are key to developing your resilience, your leadership, and your business.

Relationships Build Happiness and Resilience:

Healthy relationships build both our happiness and our resilience. In the longest-running study on human happiness, close relationships were more important than money and fame in keeping people happy and preventing physical and mental decline.

Relationships make for Resilient Companies:

Social relationships are essential to developing and sustaining a business. “People do business with people,” Dr. Robin told us. “They don't do business with ideas, machines, products, plans, or money. They actually do business with people. So, until you get the people part right, you're going to be somewhat limited in how far you're going to get.”  

Relationships Build Self-Awareness as a Leader:

Relationships are also key to increasing your self-awareness, a key component of being an emotionally intelligent leader. Through her work, Dr. Robin provides tools for entrepreneurs to better understand both their and others’ emotions so they can build better relationships.

Connect - Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues:

Dr. Robin refined her ideas through several decades teaching the “life-changing and transformational” interpersonal dynamics course to Stanford University students with David Bradford. Together, Robin and Bradford shared their ideas through a new book - Connect - Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues. The book has been celebrated by business leaders, including Bonobos Co-founder Andy Dunn who called it the most important book you’ll read this year, and Thrive Global Founder Arianna Huffington who called it 'A practical and timely book.' Bloomberg called it one of the best books of the year.

Dr. Robin is now furthering her lifelong commitment to developing business leaders by co-founding Leaders-in-Tech, an organization helping leaders of high-growth tech companies build high-performing and culturally healthy organizations.  

Six Pillars of Exceptional Relationships

In Connect, Robin and her co-author Bradford share their six pillars of exceptional relationships. They argue that by learning these skills, you can move relationships along a continuum from dysfunctional – to exceptional.  

  1. Allow Yourself to be Known
    “Authenticity is important, but consider the setting, the person, the relationship, and think about incremental steps,” Dr. Robin told us. She encourages us to use the 15% rule. By stepping 15% outside your comfort zone with personal disclosure, you reduce the risk of oversharing, while still allowing yourself to be better known.

  2. Allow Others to be Vulnerable
    Entrepreneurs especially need to make sure that they’re also encouraging others to be known. “One of the things that happens when you're really passionate is that you don't stop to consider that the other person isn't with you. You're so enthusiastic about what you're talking about, you haven't realized that the other person stopped listening a while ago.” She works to help her students and clients listen better, suggesting we be “curious instead of always being in advocacy mode.” By suspending judgement, and remaining curious, you can learn about other ways to look at a situation.

  3. Understand that it is Safe to Self-disclose
    In order for each side to be able to be vulnerable, they need to feel safe to share thoughts and feelings without worry they will be used against them. “We trust each other. It doesn't mean we tell each other everything, but we trust each other to allow ourselves to be better known,” says Dr. Robin.

  4. Be Honest
    Honest feedback is essential for improving individuals and organizations and can also help build stronger relationships. This includes honesty on the range of emotions and constructive feedback of behaviours. Robin and Bradford’s Connect offers clear frameworks for feedback, including focusing on the objective behaviour observed, on how it made you feel, and communicating your intentions for providing the feedback.

  5. Deal with Conflict Productively
    Dr. Robin acknowledges that conflict is scary, as most of us don’t like heated emotional arguments. With co-founder break-ups being a leading cause of start-up failure, conflict resolution is a key skill for entrepreneurs to learn. The book breaks conflict into minor ones, which they call pinches, and more disruptive challenges, called crunches. They argue that you need to learn how to deal with pinches before they become crunches. Connect dives deeper on how to resolve conflict using the book’s models for communicating on difficult subjects.

  6. Commit to Each Other's Growth and Development
    In exceptional relationships, each side is committed to the other’s growth and development. This is especially important in fast-changing companies where the business interests diverge from employee interests. Having open conversations about career development with employees helps your teammates know that you care about their growth.  

In highlighting the importance of these six pillars, Dr. Robin told us “To the extent that you have them all and really deeply, you're at exceptional.”

To begin putting her ideas to work in your relationships and companies, check out her books’ website - Connect - Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues.

Connect’s Six Pillars of Exceptional Teams

  1. Allow yourself to be known
  2. Invite others to be known
  3. Proceed with the understanding that self-disclosures won't be used against you.
  4. Be honest with each other.
  5. Deal with conflict productively
  6. Commit to each other's growth and development.

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