Why Flexibility is the key in building and maintaining relationships

Last week, we were in France following Gloucester in their European Challenge Cup match with La Rochelle. It’s a great social occasion and an opportunity to strike up new friendships with both fellow Gloucester supporters and French citizens alike. This, of course, came in the wake of the atrocious Paris terrorist attacks and meant that we all stood for a minute silence before the game and then all sang the Marseillaise.
What was so humbling, was the response from the French citizens, pats on our backs, handshakes and deeply meant thanks from those around us, for coming together and demonstrating our flexibility to learn and to sing their anthem. Apart from it being the most natural and obvious thing to do, it led to broken French and pigeon English conversations at half time, the dance of rapport was in place. Later in the bars and restaurants, many more would use all their best efforts to understand, challenge or agree points of view regarding the match, often with very limited understanding of each other’s language.
In a bar, my wife (who, it has to be said, claims not to speak fluent French, but is definitely more than competent at getting the grammar correct) enjoys a conversation with an elderly gentleman regarding the smell of wild herbs in the air in the hills of Provence, and with a chink of their glasses and the consumption of a little wine, they acknowledge each other’s appreciation of this great experience.
In our NLP trainings, we always refer to Ashby’s law of requisite variety. For those not familiar, Ashby’s Law implies that the degree of control of a system is proportional to the amount of information and hence choice available. This means you need an appropriate amount of information to control any system, whatever it is. Put rather simply, the person with the greatest flexibility in a relationship is likely to have the greatest influence.
Behavioural flexibility is constrained by the number of patterns of learned behaviour we exhibit; often, if not always, at an unconscious level. These patterns come from copying or modelling the behaviours of those influential in our lives, they occur at a young age and many of you will be familiar with the term ‘our formative years’. It is in this period that we adopt many of these behaviours and when we recognise situations reoccurring in our lives, we run the automatic behaviour or pattern.
Our ability to act flexibly, to have influence and to create the conditions for relationships to form and be maintained exquisitely, is first dependant on our awareness of our behaviours and responses. Self-awareness is the starting point of all self-development! NLP training has a guideline about patterns; ‘if it is working well for you, notice it, celebrate it and consider replicating this success elsewhere in your life. If it’s not working so well; simply modify it or change it.’
Behavioural flexibility is achieved when both your internal and external awareness is strong, when you are able to calibrate others and make subtle behavioural changes to the way that you respond in order to get the best outcome for everyone. Readers familiar with Emotional Intelligence will no doubt see parallels with Dan Goleman’s EI model of Self-Awareness, Social Awareness, Self-Management and Social Skills.
Relationships make the world go round. When we are in a good relationship, whether that is employee-manager, customer-supplier, work colleagues, sports & social club members etc.; we feel good. We feel relaxed, our attention is focused and committed and our performance increases.
Building the social skills of the next generation presents increasingly significant challenges. We are in the 2nd generation of electronic virtual reality gamers, with a generation who have increasingly used and adopted social networking as the preferred way of keeping in touch, a generation developing its own online language of emoticons, short text, symbols etc. with much less full face to face discussion and real experience reference structures.
So maybe our challenge is our behavioural flexibility in trying out and integrating with this generation, increasing our skills in the smart phone world whilst exposing them to more face to face relationship building.