The keys to interpersonal leadership: creating positive changes in professional and personal relationships.

Our lives and work are shaped by the type of relationships that we gradually develop or neglect over the years. The quality of these relationships largely determines our personal effectiveness and even our quality of life.

There is nothing more disruptive for work and personal happiness than having dysfunctional relationships with people we work or live with; conversely, nothing is more rewarding than getting along well with colleagues, customers, friends and family. Good leadership brings about positive changes in all of these relationships. We could call this interpersonal leadership.

To put it in plain terms — without oversimplifying, I hope — relationships fall into three categories: functional (they work!), neutral or dysfunctional. Functionality is defined at both at the operational and emotional levels. Thus, a relationship is fully functional when it produces positive results at both the operational and emotional levels. Both of these dimensions can complement one another in the form of a virtuous circle.

Here's an example. Officials at a Dutch bank told me about the results of a study on sales effectiveness that they had conducted in their private banking business. The study sought to understand how the health of the business relationship is affected by the degree of similarity between the personalities of the manager and the customer. The results were surprising: sales effectiveness was up to 20 times higher when the mix of personalities between customer and manager led to a satisfactory relationship for both parties. Ultimately, empathy, and having a connection (not just intellectual, but also emotional), has a major impact not only on life in general but also on business.

How can positive change be achieved in relationships?

First, by paying attention to a statistic known as the Losada Line (named after the researcher), which says that in a professional context relationships deteriorate when the ratio falls below three positive inputs for each negative impact received.

When talking about impact, we always approach it from the subjective point of view, with similar intensities, and the concept encompasses realities such as words, facts, etc.

The ratio is interesting, since it suggests that the world of relationships is highly asymmetric: either a special effort is made and/or there is a great ability to make positive impacts on others, or relationships inevitably just deteriorate. This is what happens with, and also explains, the deterioration of relationships seen in both the professional and personal realms.

Losada also studied this ratio in the area of family relationships. To everyone's surprise, the number went up to five: they're even more demanding! Quite a few positive impacts — five, in fact — are required to undo a mistake in a couple's relationship.

The signs of a deteriorating relationship

A deteriorating relationship is dysfunctional. In other words, things don't work too well; time and energy are wasted on misunderstandings, conflicts, squabbling, etc.

There are four signs of a deteriorating relationship: the first is a feeling of resistance towards the other. Resistance that makes you feel uncomfortable with the relationship.

The second sign of a deteriorating relationship is rejection: the desire to avoid the other and a negative predisposition towards their proposals and positions.

A third sign of deterioration is resentment. Resentment comes from a wound in the heart that still lingers. This feeling is one of the most debilitating for the mind; in fact, we could say that it is an unhealthy feeling. One great personal challenge is to transform feelings of resentment, should they arise, into acceptance and turn resignation into ambition.

The fourth — and most serious — sign of deterioration is repression. Repression means the desire for revenge. As the expression goes, revenge is a dish best served cold, and is thus compatible with an appearance of normality in the relationship. Repression is used to meticulously plan a way to harm the other party.

The levers for improving a relationship

The main lever for improving a relationship involves conversations; especially those that are real and not superficial, the important ones. Most conversations we have are very superficial and that in turn leads to most of our relationships also being such.

Those who learn how to have real conversations end up building better relationships. A conversation is real when both parties are comfortable talking about things that are "real," meaning they are important for one person, who is expressing what they really think and feel.

A conversation is "real" when the parties are comfortable discussing one's fears, hopes for the future, mistakes of the past, etc. All of these issues involve the expression of a certain vulnerability. This is why we avoid these conversations which, in spite of everything, deep down, we need.

Other actions that score as positive impacts in the Losada Line include: devoting time to a person, saying nice things to them, showing signs of appreciation, performing acts of service and expressing affection with a sincere hug. The most common negative impacts include emails written while upset. Some might say that emails written while negative emotions are running high are the work of the devil.

Relationships are, at the very least, a two-way street. As such, no matter how great one's desire may be, if the other party does not cooperate in the challenge of building a better relationship, it becomes toilsome. But that's where leadership comes into play. The most powerful lever for convincing another person to improve a personal relationship is integrity: integrity is a byproduct of personal leadership that bears is richest fruit in the functionality of relationships.