relational mastery podcast

Beyond Workplace Communication: Cultivating Relational Mastery

By David Hassell, CEO of 15Five

Slack, email, this blog… the myriad ways of communicating have no end. But what is the point of all this communication software if we fail at effectively conveying our message, building authentic relationships, or winning at work? Has our technology surpassed our humanity? Not if we learn how to cultivate relational mastery.

In previous episodes of the Best-Self Management podcast, we went into how leaders can Create a Powerful Shared Context with the vision, mission, values, goals, and all the elements of establishing the greater purpose of your organization. We also examined the principle of Be and Become Your Best Self and creating programs that have people lean into their edges to discover their strengths to show up and achieve breakthrough performance.

The final pillar of cultivating relational mastery is a huge component of creating a work environment that has people experience (psychological) safety, belonging, and esteem so that they can naturally move into that place of Best-Self:

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Relational mastery as a business advantage

It’s not enough to have people become their individual best selves. In order to do the extraordinary, we have to work with other people. No matter how great a single person’s efforts, it’s not going to be enough on its own. That’s why cultivating relational mastery is essential in any business.

Often, cultivating relational skill is overlooked, which is why so many organizations get bogged down by relational friction (drama, politics, resentment, blame, etc.) This means having difficult conversations. While they may be uncomfortable at the time, direct and honest communication is key to keeping negative emotions from festering.

A great practice, for example, is having a clearing conversation to repair relationships thereby clearing up any stories about another person’s actions or motivations. This is how a toxic work culture is prevented.

We’ve seen firsthand how getting better at relationships has increased our ability to be positive leaders at 15Five and beyond. Education is a crucial way to achieve this mastery—learning new skills and practices and an understanding of how we all operate.

In this episode, we also discuss:

• How relational friction keeps teams and companies from moving forward

• The Positivity Ratio and how you can engineer it into your culture

• Why seeking workplace feedback will lead to more positive relationships

• The important distinction between expectations and agreements

• Tangible relationship building and communication skills


The following is a transcribed and edited portion of the Best-Self Management Podcast, Episode 16: “Wise Leaders Cultivate Relational Mastery.”

Emotional bank accounts & clearing conversations

David: You want to be thinking about whether you are adding more into someone’s emotional bank account than you are taking out on an ongoing basis. When the inevitable relational challenges do come up and you have to have a difficult conversation, you’ll have a bank account to draw upon. There are some trust and connections already built, and the relationship can weather the challenge. Even if defensiveness comes up, you have the ability to repair.

Shane: Having the positivity ratio in the right balance inside of your company (with net more positive interactions than negative) allows you to have difficult conversations with less damage to the relationship. This is about increasing our capacity, to tell the truth to each other.

This isn’t about having a nice and pleasant culture, it’s about building world-class workplaces that have extremely high standards of performance. If we don’t have high trust, then we aren’t going to be fully engaging and committing to the projects we take on. The more social equity you build inside the company the more you can cash-in on it when it really matters.

If you don’t have the difficult conversations, things fester and that’s what creates a toxic work culture.

David: It creates distance and self-preservation in that relationship. People feel like they can’t be themselves around the person, and instead of addressing issues they sweep them under the rug. They say that it doesn’t really matter and make other excuses, but even one unaddressed negatively perceived interaction can start to change your perception of the other person.

You might start to look for another situation like that, miss some of the good things, or misinterpret something… and one or two negative interactions that aren’t addressed can start turning into resentment. Then you have a barrier up between you two, and it can get to the point where you’re making up all sorts of stories about this person, about their intent, and who they are.

The thing that I love about clearing conversations is how often it turns out that what the person is clearing actually didn’t happen. It was just an assumption or misinterpretation about what was said or happened.

You want to have a courageous conversation where you go in with two intentions: 1) really care about the relationship and strive to maintain a clear and open communication channel, and 2) you are curious about their experience instead of being so attached to your story of what happened. You may actually be right, and the other person had a blind spot around what they said and did and you can give them an opportunity to own it, apologize, and grow.

Any number of things can come out of that conversation, and it’s probably beyond what you expect.

Shane: That would also be part of the powerful shared context you can create as an organization, is saying our relationships matter. The more trust and rapport you have with one another, the more effective you will be.


Additional Resources on Cultivating Relational Mastery:

Emotional Intelligence

Crucial Conversations

Radical Candor

An Everyone Culture

The Conscious Leadership Group


David Hassell, CEO of 15Five

David Hassell is a business columnist, speaker, and serial entrepreneur who believes that when leaders institute cultural practices that support each person in being and becoming their best self, high performance and uncommon loyalty naturally result. As co-founder and CEO of 15Five, David created the science-inspired Best-Self Management methodology that helps leaders and managers address the hidden factors that stimulate sustainable growth and development – things like intrinsic motivation, growth mindset, strengths, and psychological safety in the workplace. David has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Wired. Follow him on Twitter @dhassell.

Shane Metcalf is a keynote speaker on building a world-class workplace and one of the world’s leading pioneers in the space of cultural engineering and positive psychology. His insights have been featured in Inc, Fast Company, Washington Post, and Tech Crunch. As the Co-founder of 15Five, Shane and his team support HR Executives with data-driven continuous performance management. 15Five has won numerous awards for its company culture, including the prestigious Inc Best Workplaces award, and is ranked #3 in the U.S. on GlassDoor. Follow Shane on Twitter and LinkedIn, and listen to him co-host the Best-Self Management Podcast.

Image Credit: Gradikaa Aggi on Unsplash

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