Reality Check: A “Map” of Relationships

Responses to the column that asked, “Are you in the people business?” have encouraged me to take this “people business” a little further.

If (or when) you realize that you are in the “people business,” then you might find it helpful to do some analysis. That is, evaluate the quality and type of your relationships.

One useful activity is to draw a relationship map (no drawing skill required!) If you happen to already be familiar with a creativity tool called the “mind map,” you’ll see some similarities here.

Typically, my goal for this activity is to help folks become aware of and improve work-related relationships. For work, clusters would include your peers, people who report to you, people to whom you report, your customers, your suppliers, people connected with your career advancement, with work-related learning, and so on.

Work aside, the relationship map is a useful way of looking at any set of relationships that you choose: your extended family, your social circle, your community, and so on.

How to draw it? Here’s one approach. Draw a small circle in the center of a good-sized piece of paper; label that as you. (Yes, for this exercise, everyone else revolves around you!)

Now draw some big circles or bubbles around “you.” These are your clusters— the types of relationships that you want to assess. Your clusters might be family, work, friends, social connections, sports, hobbies, learning, or any other types of connections that are important to you.

Inside those clusters, draw circles and label them for the individuals with whom you have relationships. You may find that some folks show up in several clusters; that’s OK.

Now, connect those individuals to you with lines. If you are artistically-inclined, you could make the line thickness correspond to the relationship strength: a thick line shows a close relationship. Some of us less artsy folks could use different coloured lines, or simply use a number to show relationship strength: 5 is a great, close, satisfying relationship, while 1 indicates a not-so-satisfying relationship.

It’s also helpful to include people with whom you want to have a relationship, even though it does not yet exist. Use dotted lines for those connections (or a relationship strength of 0.)

What do you see? Well, probably a big mess, but look beyond that. Do you see a balanced mixture of different kinds of mostly-satisfying relationships? Or do you see only a few clusters, and only a few relationships that are of the strength you want them to be?

The purpose of the activity is to show yourself a picture of the strength and the quality of relationships that are important to you. It can also help clarify if one part of your life (for example, work, play, or family) has taken over everything else.

How you want your relationships to be is, of course, your choice. Depending on what you see, you may conclude that it’s important to work at improving some relationships, while you may choose to simply let others go.

Does drawing a relationship map sound useful and fun to you?

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