How to Strengthen Relationships with 'Process Conversations'

Plan for the worst and you'll end up with the best.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #513

Relationships. I just love relationships. Friends, shmoopies, vendors, colleagues, bosses. Relationships are great, because you get to interact with another person. And how do you know they’re another person, and not just your imaginary friend? Because they don’t behave how you expect! They’re different from you. They think differently. They react differently. They even smile differently. And that, sadly, is the problem with relationships as well. No matter how much we wish it were so, people just aren’t mindless automatons, behaving the way we want.

Most of these mismatches aren’t a problem, as long as you know they’re coming. Indeed, you might love hearing shmoopie’s stories about that time with the dog, the porcupine, and the two-gallon jug of raspberry jam. You might laugh and laugh and laugh! But, please, couldn’t it wait until not when you’re in the middle of trying to write the concluding paragraph of your thesis?

Set Expectations Up Front

When you start a new relationship, or when you check-in on an existing one, or when you quietly decide not to quit your job (this week), have a conversation where you set expectations about how you’ll conduct your relationship.

These are called “process conversations,” because you’re designing the process you’ll use to run your relationship. While process conversations don’t guarantee smooth sailing, they can help deal with predictable relationship issues in advance. And you can be sure there are plenty of predictable issues.

How Do We Communicate?

How does someone prefer to communicate? In this glorious age of information technology, true communication has never been more difficult. We’re overwhelmed from all sides. We mostly use text, which is extremely inefficient and lacks emotional cues. And we all have two dozen inboxes. 

One person might consider texting to be an extreme invasion of privacy. Another might want all communication to happen via text. Often, a person will have multiple communication platforms and use them for different things.

Agree on which communication medium to use for casual communication, emergencies, and event planning.

How Do You Like to Receive Feedback?

Being friends or colleagues, we of course want to give each other helpful advice. “Those pants you wore to the art opening last night? I know you love spandex, but sometimes you might want to choose your clothing based on criteria other than stretchability.”

Some people like feedback blunt. Some like it diplomatically. Some like it in writing, sent via text message. Some like it by voice. 

Agree on how you like to receive feedback and over what medium.

How Do You Work Best?

If you’re like me, you work best when you’re surrounded by friends and colleagues laughing and talking and having a great time...and then shutting up completely for 19 consecutive hours until my current project is done. At which time we can all laugh and talk and have a great time again.

Other people like to laugh and interact the whole time. Still others like to lock themselves in a cabin in Antarctica and only emerge once every six months. Establish respect for each others’ work habits early.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.