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This 1 Unconventional Relationship Is The Key To Creating Lasting Connections


We noticed the relationship moving in a particular direction, but we didn’t know what to call it.

When you meet someone new, you form a specific type of relationship. That person becomes a partner, friend, business acquaintance, or simply someone you never see again.

Angela and I met at a four-month personal development course. Then, coincidentally, we became colleagues. Through working together, we got to know each other well and realized we had a lot in common.

We noticed the relationship moving in a particular direction, but we didn’t know what to call it. It was clear we were friends—definitely more than most colleagues—but we also worked together.

So we decided to call our relationship a “developmental relationship.” Though this term already existed in some capacity, we wanted to create a unique definition for what it meant to us. 

We agreed that developmental relationships are special because each person helps the other grow through emotional support. When nurtured properly, they can create lasting, mutually beneficial connections

Developmental relationships are not simply “coaching,”—and they’re more than just friendships.  

A true developmental relationship has certain attributes:

  • Warmth: The people in a developmental relationship genuinely enjoy spending time with each other. 
  • Transparency: Developmental relationships provide the ability to communicate and collaborate with genuine candor. 
  • Witnessing: The ability to connect with your partner without judgment. 
  • Discomfort: Both parties are constantly focused on “edges,” or flaws (both their own and the other person’s).
  • Rapid personal development: Your developmental partner allows you to see edges that you do not see.

Much like coaching relationships, developmental relationships are growth-focused. But unlike coaching, developmental relationships are about the growth of both parties because each person freely offers life advice to the other. Developmental relationships are always among peers, while only some coaching relationships fall into that category.

Similar to friendships, people in developmental relationships care deeply about each other, enjoy spending time together, and provide a feeling of safety for both parties. But developmental relationships can be extremely demanding, even uncomfortable or excruciatingly painful, which doesn’t happen very often in friendships

In a healthy relationship, each person holds the other accountable—no matter what. 

Developmental relationships typically involve some degree of hurt and anger. These feelings are normal and expected because the relationships are about exposing edges, with the end goal of smoothing them out. They’re focused on self-improvement. 

Most of the time, we can’t see our edges. We’re blind to the unhealthy, unconscious behaviors we exhibit. But through developmental relationships, we get another’s point of view and become more self-aware. This is why developmental relationships are so transformative, but also potentially painful. As edges are exposed, people feel hurt, vulnerable, and even angry.

It’s completely natural to feel that way.

But behavioral guidelines must first be set and agreed upon by both people to avoid more pain than necessary. Most importantly, each person must confirm that they’re ready and willing to accept constructive feedback about their personality before proceeding with the relationship. 

In an effort to prepare for emotionally-distressing situations, each person should discuss these questions with their developmental partner: 

  1. How can we ensure we act respectfully, even when we’re angry at each other?
  2. How do we ensure we recognize when we trigger each other? 
  3. How can we best support each other through uncomfortable moments?

Before committing to our developmental relationship, I admitted to Angela that I’m a fairly insecure person. I told her I’d constantly be checking in with her to reflect on my insecurities and to check on the status of our relationship. I’ll often ask her, “Is everything okay, or are we pulling away from each other because the pain is too great?” 

While the pain is often quite strong, we both feel it’s worth fighting through. Because we honestly believe that, through our developmental relationship, we can realize more personal progress in a week than we would be able to otherwise in a year. 

If you’re interested in establishing a developmental relationship with someone, know the key to creating a lasting connection is to make a commitment to each other—and the relationship—no matter what. 

Once that mutual promise has been made, the door for an everlasting bond is open. 

If this topic resonated and you’d like to talk about it together on your podcast, let me know!

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Co-founder, We help people learn agile more effectively and at a lower cost. Previously VP of Corporate Strategy at Softricity (acquired by Microsoft in 2006) and co-founder of Inquira (acquired by Oracle in 2011).

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