Mastering the Phases of Personal and Professional Relationships
Each relationship that you have in life – regardless of who that relationship is with – has the potential to go through several different phases. You may end up going through all of the phases or you may only go through the basic ones.
The level of phases that you go through will depend on the type of relationship that it is as well as the strength of the relationship. Mastering your ability to navigate relationships can be very beneficial for you in life.
Not only can you be more fulfilled at home with your personal relationships, but it makes succeeding in your professional life much easier. You’ll be an expert at networking, forming bonds with your target audience, interacting with clients easily, and more.
The First Meeting
At this phase, which is also sometimes called breaking the ice, initial contact or making someone’s acquaintance, you’re at the point where you simply meet the other person.
Most first impressions are formed at the first meeting. Sometimes during this phase, people will immediately connect to one another or they’ll decide right away that they don’t like each other.
Finding common ground is helpful when you’re meeting someone for the first time. If you’re going into a meeting with someone that you hope to develop a professional relationship with, do your homework first.
If you can discuss a shared love of something, it creates an instant connection. During this phase of a relationship, things are usually kept on the surface. There is not baring of the soul about what benefits you hope to derive from someone else.
The topics that are discussed are usually trivial or common subjects such as the beautiful (or harsh) weather. There is a sharing of words, but not necessarily a meeting of the minds.
There are no strong bonds formed at this stage. It’s at this point that people rate how much they want to get to know you. Though the phrase “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is accurate, at this stage in a relationship, judgments do take place.
A bad first impression has the potential to set the course if you run into this person again. If there is a sexual attraction (in a personal relationship situation), this is referred to as an infatuation phase.
In this phase, wearing rose colored glasses can certainly apply. People see the good and can develop a tunnel vision where they don’t notice any red flags because the attraction is so strong.
Everyone leaves a first meeting, whether in a personal or a professional relationship, with the decision made to be open to getting to know the person or closed to it.
If they do see the person again, they’re apt to duck out of sight, brush off any attempts at conversation or answer questions or comments in a clear, uninterested pattern of speech.
Be careful during a first meeting that you don’t make snap judgments. That person could be the one that’s suited to take your personal or professional life to the next level.
Try to understand that some people might be distracted or even shy or nervous at the first meeting. Try to put your best foot forward and get out of your comfort zone a bit.
The Bonding Phase
This is the second phase in a relationship and it’s also known as the involvement phase or the growing phase. It’s during this part of a relationship that ties begin to develop.
A person has decided that they like the other person well enough to get to know them. This is where new friendships begin, romantic relationships deepen and professional relationships begin a back and forth connection.
When you see this person, you’ll experience gladness or will look forward to meeting up with them if they offer to get together for coffee, drinks, or to talk about business.
This is the phase that’s not yet strong enough to withstand any sudden harsh situations between the participants such as betrayal, lies or professional discourtesies.
As the bonding phase continues, people decide that they can or can’t trust the other person to become a little more unguarded. They may lose their formal approach if it’s a professional relationship.
If it’s a personal relationship, they will start to let down their guard and allow the other person to know more about them and about their lives that they usually keep protected.
These can be deep, intimate things in some cases. If all goes well during the bonding phase, the people involved will enter into a more intimate relationship. For business relationships, this is the stage where discussions about going into business together or helping one another are often started.
A commitment to the relationship takes place and you officially see yourself as that person’s friend, or business associate. If the relationship is romantic at this stage, the two people involved gravitate toward creating more depth in the relationship.
They’ll start talking on the phone for long periods of time. They’ll connect back and forth on social media and make plans to meet up for dates or to hang out. This is the discovery stage where you start to find out how the other person grew up, what their favorite things are – or aren’t.
When the bonding phase is going on, the people involved in the relationships, whether personal or professional, are often showing the best version of themselves.
They (and you) are putting a good foot forward because they want to impress you – they want to be in the relationship with you on some level. This part of bonding can be called the honeymoon phase.
Everything seems perfect. That man or woman is everything that you’ve always dreamed he or she would be. You’ve found your best friend or your soul mate. Or you’ve found what seems like the perfect business partner or associate.
Life couldn’t be going more your way. It’s a beautiful thing and nothing that anyone says to you that has the potential to change the relationship or tear you apart from it sinks in.
You know there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship – except this one – because you fit so well with this person romantically or professionally. While trust does develop in this stage and there is a back and forth of revealing more intimate sides to people, there’s not 100% transparency in the relationship because wanting to impress the other person, wanting their favor is still the most important aspect.
You don’t want to lose them or they don’t want to lose you. Understand that in the bonding phase, you may not be seeing the real person. Unfortunately, there are those who wear masks so well, even they don’t know who they truly are any more.
At this point, if you feel like something’s off about the other person, trust your instincts and back off. You don’t want to immerse yourself deeper in a bond that could potentially cause problems for you later.
The Discovery Phase
This phase can also be called the honeymoon’s over phase. It’s at this phase where all relationships get a big reality check. It’s here where the disagreements and conflicts have the potential to show up.
In the bonding phase, you were more focused on building the relationship, on the excitement and newness of it all. But at this phase, you rediscover that you have an opinion and that it’s sometimes different from the other person’s opinion.
At this point, little issues can become big ones. You start to see that the person who could do no wrong – is wrong. Maybe even a lot. You find out that the person you have a professional relationship with doesn’t handle things the way that you would.
The rose colored glasses are thrown off and the faults of the other person can be seen clearly for the first time. Some of these faults are simply going to boil down to different life perspectives not meshing together.
But other faults can be cause for some major concern. If you’re in a romantic relationship, that guy or girl who’d throw caution to the wind and splurge on a super expensive weekend getaway was romantic.
But after you see it for what it really is, it may be that the person is simply foolish with money or immature and you know that can spell serious financial problems down the road.
The professional relationship with the joint venture partner or client who trusted you to “handle this” is suddenly seen as a shift in the work relationship balance. You’re doing all the work and they’re taking all of the credit.
You might suddenly disagree on the direction that your joint business venture should take. Maybe assumptions were made on both sides, and it wasn’t until this phase that you both realized you were split on the future.
This is the phase in a relationship where the work begins. You and the other person have to strive together for what will make the relationship workable. At this point, you might feel a little like you’ve been betrayed because that person is not who you trusted that they were.
In a romantic relationship, this causes misunderstandings to develop. It can cause you to feel anxious, depressed or angry. You feel cheated out of what you thought was perfect.
This can be a phase in every relationship that can be used as a way to have open, honest communication about what’s working for you and what’s not. It can strengthen the relationship.
Or, it can lead to wounds that will fester within you or in the other person and it lays the groundwork for the relationship to be over. With a professional relationship, once there’s been a loss of trust, it has to be rebuilt or the union won’t last.
This is the point where you have to decide if it’s worth trying to salvage the relationship or not. In the discovery phase, be prepared that what you might find out could cost you emotionally or professionally.
If the initial bond was strong enough, you’ll have to mindfully decide whether or not it’s worth it to patch things up and move forward in a new direction. If it’s not worth the hassle, then finding out sooner rather than later will save you a lot of frustration.
The Conflict Phase
This phase is one that can also be referred to as the crisis phase. The relationship has reached a head. Major issues have been revealed. In a romantic relationship, this can sometimes be a series of thoughtless behaviors by a partner.
It can also be revealed to broken trust – such as is caused by an affair. The commitment that you made to one another goes through some serious unraveling.
The amount of stress that you’ll carry at this stage can be immense. You might feel pushed beyond your ability to care for the other person. Some people refer to certain types of conflict as deal breakers.
They know ahead of time what they will or will not put up with in a relationship. For some people, cheating is a deal breaker. For others, it’s an addiction – or the inability to give the relationship the proper care that it needs to thrive.
In a professional relationship, there can be issues that threaten the ability of the business to continue – such as poor management decisions. One partner isn’t holding up his or her end of the deal.
At this point in either relationship, you will experience an internal struggle of whether or not to cut your losses. You may start to think of the consequences of sticking with it versus leaving.
The conflict phase can continue on until communication is completely broken down. Instead of feeling excited about the once wonderful relationship, you resent the amount of time that you’ve spent trying to make it work.
You feel like the relationship is all one sided. No amount of trying to talk over what’s going on seems to be working. You’ve talked to a trusted third party and that hasn’t made a difference.
You feel as if your boundaries have all been crossed and you feel a strong desire to get away from it all. You might feel like you have more peace in your life whenever your partner is busy with other things, away for awhile or when you’re not interacting with him or her.
The relationship has reached the point that not only is communication absent but so is the presence of any physical or sexual intimacy, if the relationship is personal.
If it’s a professional relationship, at this stage, with all of the conflict, you might feel like there’s so much garbage between yourself and your business partner, that there’s no way that it can successfully be dealt with.
The conflict stage can be a wake up call for any relationship. It can make people aware that there’s a need for help if the relationship stands any chance of being salvaged.
But it’s usually at this point where many people decide whether or not to enter the next phase of a relationship. With the conflict phase, make sure that you know ahead of time what you’ll do when disagreements arise.
This will help you to not say things you can’t un-say. It’s always better to act rather than to react. It can help if you study conflict resolution – especially when it comes to professional relationships.
You don’t want to jeopardize future partnerships by developing a reputation as a hot head. You want to be known for civil disagreements and pleasant parting of ways if the situation calls for it.
The Repair Phase
Sometimes, a relationship can be repaired. In this event, if it’s a personal relationship, the people involved make a decision to do whatever it takes to salvage the relationship.
This usually involves a decision to change the actions that caused the relationship to break down in the first place. There’s usually a commitment at this point to work together on resolving conflicts in a way that both partners can agree on.
You determine that you’ll be supportive of each other. You agree that you won’t bring up the past, that you won’t throw mistakes in the other person’s face. You offer kindness to each other where harshness may have formerly been.
In a professional relationship, you may decide that it’s worth saving because it’s keeping you on track for where you want to be in the future. You might find it helpful to have an honest conversation in whatever professional relationship isn’t working.
If you don’t have a business or networking partner who is open to conflict resolution, you may have to expand your ability to not let the other person’s actions get to you.
Sometimes, though, the relationship and the trust in it is simply too fragile to continue on. In the repair phase, this can be a hard place to be. You have to ask yourself if saving the relationship is worth it.
You need to know what it will mean to your life personally or professionally for your future if you let it go. Go through this phase with caution. If necessary, make some concessions to the other person. Learn how to compromise to get past obstacles.
The Termination or Dissolution Phase
The erosion of trust in any relationship can lead to a termination or dissolution of the relationship. This is usually not a decision that’s reached quickly by most people.
It happens over time when no compromises can be reached. The damage in the relationship is too great to be healed because the initial threads of the bond unraveled to the point that no amount of talking can restart the relationship.
Many people choose to go in this direction in order to protect their emotional, financial or professional well being. If you reach the termination phase, don’t look back.
Don’t dwell on what you could have or should have done – on how you could have avoided what you went through. Harboring a lot of “if only” thoughts will keep you tied to that relationship burden. Move on into the future with a forward focus on new beginnings.