The keys to understanding successful relationships

Relationships are a big deal. It’s not a coincidence that you can’t throw a rock without hitting an article about how to to make them better. In fact, if you Google the term “relationships” you’ll be met with more than 2.2 billion-with-a-b results in just 0.62 seconds! Can you imagine if Google wasn’t in such a damn hurry all the time and spent a second or two looking? It would be overwhelming.
The point is, relationships are a hot topic, and while there isn’t a shortage of information out there, there is clearly a shortage of people acting on that information, which tells me that there is still plenty of work to do.

The keys to developing successful relationships

Relationships come in many shapes, sizes, and shades of gray to be sure. There are many skills to develop, traits to foster, and behaviors to improve on, as it pertains to building and maintaining relationships in business and in life. However, let’s leave those to another article for the time being. If we zoom out a bit and think about relationships at a higher level, we can explore just two fundamental needs, as given to me by Wesley Anne Little, a relationship counselor in North Carolina. According to Wesley, if you distill relationships down to their most basic form, “they are composed of two separate and distinct variables — autonomy and security.”
“Relationships are composed of two separate and distinct variables — autonomy and security.” — Wesley Anne Little


To keep things simple, autonomy is essentially the freedom of self-determination. It is not the same as avoidance of intimacy, lack of care or concern, rebellion, or other actions that ultimately lead to isolation. Instead, it is the power to choose. The ability to make choices within the context of our relationships to ensure we are checking our proverbial personal boxes. We have needs, and we require the freedom to explore them within our relationships.
In the context of remote work, providing your teams with the autonomy to operate freely — in the way that works best for them — not only fosters engagement and boosts in productivity, but it also creates a culture of trust. Every study ever seems to indicate this is true. One example is a study out of the University of Melbourne which reports that “leaders who employ a style known as autonomously supportive, rather than a controlling, micro-management style, are more likely to encourage greater workplace wellbeing and flourishing employees.”
Further, they confirmed that this appreciation for autonomy appears to be ubiquitous to virtually all cultures, meaning that the value placed on freedom to choose is not solely reserved for the remote-working elite. Instead, it’s a matter of human desire. “Our study showed that autonomy support leads to positive outcomes like intrinsic motivation, wellness, engagement, and more committed and loyal employees, no matter the national culture,” according to the study’s author Dr. Gavin Slemp. “We explored these leadership behaviors in studies that had accumulated more than 30,000 employees from all over the world, and results were similar no matter the location.”


The second key in developing relationships that matter is security. Security in relationships, simply put, is all about support. It’s about having a shoulder to cry on, confidence that your counterpart will be there when called upon, mutual trust, and integrity. We feel safe when our relationships are clearly defined, and we know how to cooperate within the bounds of those definitions.
Security, not unlike relationships themselves, can take many forms. What one person needs may differ significantly from that of another. But outside of the basics like physical safety, job security, and a culture of trust, a primary driver for feeling secure in our work is psychological safety. Feeling safe is nearly as important as being safe.
A psychologically safe work environment describes one in which team members feel open to sharing ideas, take risks, and express concerns without fear of retribution. According to a Gallup study on the subject, at present, “just three in 10 U.S. workers strongly agree that at work, their opinions seem to count. However, by moving that ratio to six in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents, and a 12% increase in productivity.” The point is that just a small shift in the attention paid to this critical aspect of relationships could lead to massive gains.

Are our needs being met?

The keys above are critical to finding success in the relationships we make with our distributed teams, ourselves, or anyone else for that matter. But how do we know if we’re doing a good job? Below is an oversimplified set of wants, but you’ll be in a reasonably good spot if you can hit these high-notes. Humans, including you, want to:
  • Be heard. We not only want you to listen to the words coming out of our mouths physically, but we also want you to comprehend our meaning deeply and profoundly.
  • Be valuable. We want our worth to be known. But not only in a superficial “because we’re human” way, rather we want to be integral enough to your life or operation that it would be hard to go on without us.
  • Be aligned. We naturally want to surround ourselves with those who think about how we think and believe what we believe. I caution this, however, in that it’s critical to be exposed to others’ thoughts and beliefs continually. Always be learning, right? But with regard to the work we do and the great relationships we’ll form doing it, finding teams where everyone is aligned on the mission, for example, will contribute to our overall sense of wellbeing.
  • Be appreciated. We want to be recognized and validated for the contribution we make to our relationships. While a belly rub or a back pat every so often might compound how appreciated we feel, so much of this will come through the kind words and actions people do and say on our behalf when we’re not in the room. Much of our sense of being appreciated will come in the form of a “good reputation” or what we are “known for.” That comes with trust, trust builds better relationships, and round and round we go, ad infinitum.

Make our relationships matter

If we are to build meaningful relationships that last, it’s absolutely critical that we look at our interactions with others not only through the lens of their basic wishes to be heard, valuable, aligned, and appreciated, but how the work we do in meeting those needs contributes to our greater human desire for autonomy and security. Fostering awareness of these simple truths as a leader is imperative for sure, but perhaps even more so in our capacity as a human being.

What is your take?

Science can account for a lot, studies might know a thing or two, but what are you doing in your work, or your life, that is contributing positively to the relationships you make? What works? What doesn’t? Please, share your thoughts in the comments below, find me on LinkedIn, or tag @ryanroghaar or use the hashtag #TeammateApart on the socials and lend your support to the broader remote work community.

Meet Ryan

I am an entrepreneur, creative director, podcaster, remote work advocate, consultant, author, and speaker committed to building authentic end-to-end relationships for my clients — from top management to top consumer. My unique philosophy puts specific importance on human relationships and their inherent value in both business and in life. As a society, I believe we are reaching a kind of technological saturation point, which leaves consumers anxious and yearning for tactile human experiences. It is that core ethic that fuels my purpose — to bring people together.
‍From my office in Salt Lake City, Utah, or occasionally from my office-away-from-home in Barcelona, Spain, I will offer enlightening insights on a vast range of topics. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share my insights and experiences to help others explore fresh perspectives on business, lifestyle, and new ways of working.
Previous Post Next Post