Who is the most relationally proficient person you know?
You may not have heard the term relationally proficient before, but we’re confident that you understand the question. Who do you know who makes a practice of really tuning in to people? Who do you know who is genuinely curious about people? Who is strangely adept at focusing on what a person says and asking questions that help that person get to the core of it? Who do you know who feels, to you and others, like a living, breathing safe haven?
There are people with whom nearly all of us just find it easy to connect. The difference is that for the truly relationally proficient among us, there’s nothing conditional about the willingness to connect; it’s not dependent on how much we like the other person. Being relationally proficient becomes part of who we are. While it may be true that a few of us are born with such capacity, or are nurtured in our families of origin such that relational proficiency is second nature to us, it is also true that it can be learned.
Take a look at the practices mentioned in that first paragraph: tuning in, being curious, engaging with what the person says, being a safe haven. These are relational practices, and they are learnable skills.
But are these practices necessary components of exceptional care? We have come to understand that they are necessary if care is to even be called adequate.
More than tools
While these relational practices are more than mere tools, they are in fact tools, and when used properly they’re tools that make some very important things happen. If we use the tool of tuning in—or attuning—to someone, the person feels seen because she is seen. She feels as though she matters, and, interestingly, the more attuned attention you pay to the person, the more you will come to care about the person (Goleman, 2013). If you use the tool of genuine curiosity—if you wonder with and about a person—the person feels as though he is worthy of your interest and, again, he feels as though he matters to you. If you use the tool of hooking in with genuine interest to what the person says or does—the tool called following—the person experiences that you are not only working for him, but that you are working with him to find a solution or to get him some relief. If you use the tool of creating a safe haven—the tool of mentally and emotionally (and sometimes physically) holding the person—the person will feel safe with you (Koloroutis & Trout, 2012).
The practices that create and nurture relationships with patients and families are attuning, wondering, following, and holding. As we teach these practices, we have noticed that there seem to be few if any people who have adopted the therapeutic practices of attuning, wondering, following, and holding in their work with patients and families who have not also embraced them in their relationships with their own families, significant others, friends, and co-workers. They are not merely “therapeutic practices;” they’re the four practices that create, nurture, deepen, and improve all relationships.
Trout, M., & Koloroutis, M. (2017). A relationship-based way of being. In M. Koloroutis & D. Abelson (Eds.), Advancing relationship-based cultures. Minneapolis, MN: Creative Health Care Management. Manuscript submitted for publication.