David L. Brandford & Carole Robin wrote Connect based on the material they taught in a Stanford MBA elective called Interpersonal Dynamics

Watch Connect on YouTube.

Relationships exist on a spectrum:

  • Contact without connection
  • Functional
  • Robust
  • Exceptional


  • Be thyself. We think we have to hide parts of ourselves to be more influential. It’s actually the opposite. In an exceptional relationship, you feel free to be yourself. Less need to spin your image. More freedom for others to really know you. It should be incredibly freeing, and the other person feels free to be themselves too. But there’s balance: Maybe I don’t want to know all the details of your issues at this stage of our relationship.
  • You’re both willing to be vulnerable. It’s a strength, not a weakness
  • Reciprocal trust. Trust that what you disclose won’t be used against you
  • Honesty. Even if it’s difficult to tell the other person some things. It can both build and destroy relationships.
  • Productive dealing with conflict rather than avoiding it or getting locked in it
  • Both committed to each other and your own

These are all risky.

The question is What can I share at this point of our relationship? Remember: They institutionalize people who over-share.

There are also risks in not sharing. In the absence of data, people make stuff up. If they don’t understand your motives and priorities, they fill in the blanks. The more you keep to yourself, the more they fill in the blanks.

This leads to progressive impoverishment: Both people hiding their cards.

So there are risks in sharing and not sharing.

The goal is to proactively take calculated risks in how much you share with the other person based on the current state of your relationship in order to build a stronger relationship. Taking these risks can also help repair a relationship. Storytelling is interesting, but sharing emotions builds deeper connection. Emotions are extremely powerful. Emotions give meaning to thoughts.

When I interrupt you and you interrupt me, that’s ok in some relationships but not others. It depends on the person.

If you do something that bothers me, it matters how I respond. I’m bothered, annoyed, angry, pissed, furious.

We use “I feel” in two opposite ways:

  • “I feel like
  • “I feel as
  • I feel like you want to denominate

There are feelings behind it, but these are masking the true feeling.

She got promoted frequently until she ran a $50M business.

Relationships are on both a strength and time continuum. The goal is to build enough credibility to be able to share more of ourselves over time.

The 15% rule:

  • With new relationships, start in the Comfort Zone: “Hi, I’m Richard. I’m married, I like to travel, and I’m a software engineer.” Things you would tell a stranger.
  • Then take a 15% risk: Share something you normally wouldn’t with the other person that’s 15% out of your comfort zone. “I’ve been trying to find the right tradeoff between speed and quality. I take real pride in my work, but lately I’ve learned I have some perfectionistic tendencies, and I think it’s causing me to take longer than I should to finish my projects.” Usually the other person reciprocates by sharing a little more about themselves. But even if it doesn’t go well, nothing disastrous occurs and you can recover.
  • Learning
  • Danger

The solution is to regularly make time and look for opportunities to share just a little bit more in pursuit of reciprocity and a stronger relationship.

Relationship issues start building from a slight pinch to an annoyance to a major annoyance to a crash.

Bring up the things that bother you before they become a big deal.

For example:

  • “Hey, this isn’t a big deal, but when you do X, it frustrates me because Y.”
  • e.g. “Next time you change the design, would you let me know before the meeting with stakeholders. I’ve been working off of the previous design, and now I feel embarrassed because it looks like I was paying attention.”

3 Realities

Intent: needs, motives, situation. I know my intent but not yours.

Behavior: verbal, non verbal, even silence or non-action. You and I both know my behavior and your behavior. This is the only reality you and I both know about each other.

Impact: feelings, reactions, responses. I see the impact you have on me but not the impact I have on you.

Impact is the reality I have on others that I don’t know about myself. But I want to. I need to in order to be an effective leader.

We each know two of these realities but not the third.

  • I know my intent and my behavior, but not the impact I have on you.
  • I know your behavior and your impact on me, but not your intentions.

Our only shared reality is behavior.

So when I tell someone about their interaction with me, I need to stick with the two realities I know: their behavior and their impact on me. Those are indisputable because they’re both my realities. But I should avoid stating their intent.

SBI: Situation, Behavior, Impact. State: This is the behavior, and this is the impact it had on me. The behavior itself should be objective, meaning everyone should be able to agree:

State the objective behavior and objective impact:

  • Behavior: “Yesterday, you were 10 minutes late to standup.”
  • Impact: “None of the rest of us know this module, and the team lost an hour of productivity waiting on you to join the call.”

Avoid judging their intent:

  • “You must not respect us.” Bad. You don’t know why they were late, and you don’t know their motives.

Avoid saying, “I feel like you” or “I feel that you.” For example, don’t say “I feel like you don’t care,” because that is not a feeling. It’s an attribution that imputes a motive, and that’s out of bounds. Feelings should describe how YOU feel, not what the other person THINKS. Stick to describing your two realities: the behavior that occured, and the impact it had on you.

If I’m going to share the impact of your behavior on me, it means I’m also disclosing and sharing how I feel.

“When you do/say X, it makes me feel like Y.”

  • “Yesterday, you missed the design meeting. Our team depends on your guidance to succeed, and now I feel stressed because we have to work late to avoid missing our sprint deliverable.” This is good because it objectively states the behavior that took place: “You missed the design meeting” and it objectively states the impact it had: “Now we have to work late.” It also states how you feel: “stressed” without maligning the other person.
  • Bad: “You missed our design meeting, and now we have to work late. You really must not care about us.” This is bad because it assigns motives to the other person’s actions. How would you feel if the other person responded, “I’m so sorry. My best friend was in a car wreck late last night, and I’ve been at the hospital all day. I should have emailed to say I would be out, but I was so worried that I completely forgot to email.”

  • Good: “When you ignore my advice, I feel sad that I’m not able to help you.” Good. It expresses how you feel.
  • Good: “When you ignore my advice, I feel unvalued.” Good. It expresses how you feel.
  • Bad: “When you ignore my advice, I feel like you don’t respect me.” Careful! Now you’re judging the other person’s motives.
  • Bad: “When you don’t respond to my messages, I feel like you don’t care about me.” Bad – you don’t get to speak for them. They may have been busy. Don’t read into their intent. Stick to their behavior and the impact it had, don’t assign intent.
  • Better: “When you don’t respond to my messages, I feel like I’m not a priority to you.”

“I can’t” should only be used when it comes to physical impossibilities. Instead, say “I choose not to.” That gives you agency. That makes you powerful.

If I’m doing something that’s annoying you, and you don’t tell me, I’m going to keep doing it. How would I know not to if you don’t tell me?

You can say “I don’t know how to respond to you.” But don’t say “you’re just too emotional.”

You can always respond: I’m trying to help us build a stronger relationship. And when you respond like that it undermines our relationship.


  • Don’t say, “The trouble is you just want to dominate.” This is out of bounds.
  • That’s not my intention, but clearly I’m doing something that’s giving you that feeling. What am I doing?
  • It forces them to name the behavior. “You’re just obstinate.”

Them: “You keep interrupting me when I’m speaking.” Me: “I’m not trying to be rude, and I’m going to try to stop interrupting. I could use some patience, because I know I’ll probably mess up a few times.”

When people jump on your aide of the net, push back gently: “If you would stick to telling me about my behavior that bothers you rather than describing my motives, I could have heard it better.”

The more senior person in the relationship (especially at work) should feel responsible to be first to try to fix things. There’s already a power imbalance so don’t wait for the less powerful person to act first.

“We don’t talk as much anymore / we don’t talk as deep anymore … I’m wondering if I did something to cause that because I would like to have a closer relationship like we did before.”

There’s a risk because they could reject the request for a relationship.

This is a really great way to push back on others.

But don’t forget to also look for opportunities to praise others and make them feel good and reinforce the behavior that you like in them.

Law of Reciprocity is central to these concept

  • Figure out what they need and give them that so that they give you what you need

You have to start by seeing things from your boss’s viewpoint

You become more powerful, not by making others less powerful but by making yourself more powerful. The pie is not fixed.

Additional resources:

David L. Brandford wrote another book about managing up for helping your boss: Influencing Up

Copyright © 2023 Richard Morgan.