Alex Bierach

Developmental coaching for grounded achievers

Surround of Relationship

31 August 2019

“In order to be a fully alive human being, you must create around yourself a rich surround of relationship. This surround will evoke you, will call you forth. It will affirm you. It will sustain you. It will challenge you.” - Stephen Cope

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Go positive, go first.” - Peter Kaufman

I read Stephen Cope’s Deep Human Connection this month and am inspired by his vision for how we can engage with our relationships.

He describes how we can “systematically create for ourselves a ‘surround’ of highly effective relationships that will continue to evoke, affirm, and sustain our most mature selves.”

Take a minute (and perhaps later an afternoon) to think about the most significant relationships in your life. The people who have shaped you into the present version of yourself. Those family members, friends, teachers, first loves, mentors, partners. The people you’ve developed alongside. They may no longer be in your life, but they are still within your relational surround, they’ve left an imprint in you.

As I become more aware of my own relational surround and how it has shaped me, I’m inspired to enrich it. I’m beginning to savor moments of attunement with others. Simple moments of significant relationship. A shared joke with a friend, an existential dialogue with an advisor, bearing witness to a loved one’s tragedy.

What if you systematically cultivated your capacity to enter into significant relationship with others?

This is an experiment in living that you can venture into at any time. You can choose to see your relationships anew. Each interaction with another person has potential for significant relationship. For meeting another person beneath the layers of justifications, defensiveness, accomplishments, narratives, and self-image. For meeting beneath the noise.

Take risks in connection! In discussing the principle of ‘mirrored reciprocation’, the investor Peter Kaufman describes a hypothetical scenario where you are entering an elevator with one other person in it. He suggests that the majority of the time the way that you interact with that person will be mirrored back to you. If you grunt and look at the floor they will likely close off to you. If you smile and greet them warmly, they will likely do the same. Kaufman’s conclusion is to “go positive, go first.”

What if we entered moments of contact with others with an open and generous spirit? What if, instead of being concerned about whether they will like us or recognize our importance or agree with our views, we offer first our acceptance of them? We esteem them and meet them with a presence that says, “I am interested in who you are and what you want for your life… we’re in this together”. This is a gift we can give to each person in our life. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give.

This is easier said than done because I’m not talking about a phony politeness. I’m talking about genuine warmth of character. It requires stepping outside of self-concern and genuinely appreciating the person in front of you.

A life well-lived is lived in the midst of a rich relational surround. And yet, so many of us seem to be focused, at the exclusion of our relationships, on narrow bands of technical expertise or small victories that won’t mean much when our health fails and we prepare to depart this life.

A worthy pursuit for all of us is to refine the art of deep human connection. We can conduct experiments in connection that allow us to know and be known by others. As far as I know there is no limit to how good our relationships can be.

Claiming our role in building this surround is a profound act of personal leadership that will enhance our lives for years to come.