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Through the MF Lens - The 8 Principles of Relational Capacity

Phil Hayes
June 28, 2024

MF's Founder, resident bookworm and published author - Phil Hayes  - interviews Kerry-Lyn Stanton-Downes on the 8 Principles of Relational Capacity...

Could you tell us how you first became interested in the concept of Relational Capacity?  

I’ve always been interested in relational capacity. As far back as I can remember I was fascinated by how relationships worked, and at the same time acutely aware of my own struggles with relationships. I can remember growing up fairly confused about what was involved in creating a positive and coherent relationship, or how you navigated differences in relationships. Where I come from the person who shouted the loudest and the longest won. Everything was about survival.  

I spent a lot of my childhood and early adult life deregulated, disassociated and completely trapped in my emotional and sensate world. It was an unhelpful, and rather destructive way of being in the world. My first years of work were awful – I felt lost, confused, and quite lonely. So, it was really out of necessity that I became interested in the concept of relational capacity because I knew if I was to have healthy, effective relationships – both in and out of the workplace, I had to come to understand more about how I, and we as human beings, function at a psychological and neurobiological level.  

The second thing that influenced my interest was the relational poverty I was witnessing in the world. As the influence of technology has increased so has our sense of disconnection in this hyperconnected world. On the surface it looks like we are connected but when we take a closer look, we see we have a mental health epidemic and I believe it is as a result of the lack of true connection that is necessary for us individually and collectively to have a strong sense of wellbeing and be effective in the workplace.  

These two factors drove me to return to academia as a mature student where I studied psychology focusing on inter-personal neurobiology as it helped me understand the importance of relational dynamics in both personal wellbeing and organisational effectiveness.  

Before training as a psychotherapist, I spent time working in PR and Marketing. While studying psychotherapy, I worked for a Rape and Sexual Abuse centre where I wrote, and delivered training for professionals to work with and support survivors. I also spent a number of years delivering workshops to officers in the British Transport Police on how to work with survivors of abuse. I’ve run a private therapy clinic for the past 20+ years. It was about 2009 when I began working as a consultant within organisations.

What sources have been particularly influential in developing your thinking?

I would say it is a blend of personal experiences, exceptional mentors and teachers as well as academic exploration.  

Through my own experiences I have come to appreciate the critical role relationships play in our ability to regulate our emotions, co-regulate each other, build resilience, collaborate, establish psychological safety, and succeed as an individual, team and organisation.  

One of the greatest moments for me was when I returned to academia and had confirmed what I already knew yet couldn’t articulate: that we are relational by nature and the quality of our relationships is a powerful indicator for our sense of individual and collective wellbeing and success.  

I have had the great honour of learning from leading figures in the fields of inter-personal neurobiology, attachment theory, coherence therapy and family therapy. Each have in their own way contributed to my understanding of the complex dynamics of human relationships.  

Eastern philosophy and spirituality have enriched my perspective and helped integrate a holistic view of how relational capacity can be cultivated through mindfulness, compassion and inter-connectedness.

What are the key propositions of Relational Capacity?  

It’s taken me a long time to articulate what I mean by Relational Capacity and right now I define it as:  

‘The measure of an individual or teams’ ability to effectively self-regulate and co-regulate, emotionally and physiologically, in order to facilitate psychological safety in the space between in service of getting things done’.

A lot of words I know - in my experience, once a person begins to actively engage with the relational values and the 3 P’s they very quickly come to have a felt experience of what the words mean.  

Relational Capacity is founded on the core belief that we are relational by nature and that we have a biological need for connection. This means that the essence of our well-being and effectiveness – both as individuals and within organisations – hinges significantly on the quality of our interactions and relationships. When we focus on the input – the way we relate to one another – rather than merely the output – such as mental health or performance metrics, we foster a healthier, more resilient, and productive environment and workforce.  

It is this belief that led me to develop a structured approach to enhance relational dynamics and effectiveness.  

The approach includes the ‘3 Ps’ – The Principles, Practices and Processes.  

Let me share a little more about each of the 3 Ps...

The Principles: There are 8 core principles and they are the foundation of any healthy, effective relationship. They include:

  1. Presence, Curiosity, Reflection, Respectful Candour, In Service, Mindset of Abundance, Navigating Difference and Vulnerability.
  2. The Practices: These are the individual practices designed to enhance your ability to self-regulate, understand others’ and connect with the relational space. They include cultivating an awareness of your emotional and physiological states, and honing skills needed to ensure you can show up and effectively contribute to a robust relational space.
  3. The Processes: These are simple, effective ways of embedding the relational principles and practices and build relational capacity as a natural part of day-to-day life. They provide the framework for every interaction and conversation.
  4. Every relational process requires us to: Reflect and Regulate
  5. Ask permission
  6. Clarify
  7. Mirror and
  8. Summarise  

Through this framework we not only improve surface-level interactions, we transform the foundational dynamics that underpin how people relate and therefore work together leading to greater overall health, wellbeing and success.

How are you using the concept in your work?  

Incorporating the 3 Ps into my work goes beyond mere application: It represents a profound integration into the fabric of how I engage with anyone – be they family, friends, clients, colleagues or organisations. While they were originally conceived as tools to enhance relational dynamics, they have evolved into intrinsic aspects of how I relate across all contexts, providing a structured, yet flexible framework that adapts to diverse relational environments. What does that mean practically? Let’s look at each of the 3 Ps:  

The Principles: These serve as my navigational beacons, guiding my interactions to be more empathic, respectful, and inclusive. Whatever the context, the principles ensure my approach consistently supports positive yet constructive engagement.  

The Practices: Day-to-day, these are the techniques I employ to embody the principles. The practices support regulation in my own system as well as enhancing my ability to co-regulate and connect with others effectively. They allow for a deeper understanding of what is happening in me, the other and the relational space.  

Processes: In any interaction, meeting or conversation, I work to embed the processes into the individual, team or organisations way of relating.  

What I enjoy about the 3 Ps is you can integrate them into every day interactions, moment by moment.

What has been/is the impact?  

Without a doubt the key impact is the ability to self-regulate and co-regulate allowing for more effective communication, collaboration and an overall sense of wellbeing.  

Teams also start having one conversation and the right conversation. It’s amazing how difficult it is to have just one conversation. I have sat in meetings where they are having between 6 and 12 conversations at the same time. By having one conversation and the right conversation, using the framework of the 3 Ps I find people have time to reflect, clarify and integrate thinking which means they are more effective when implementing a task, working together or making a decision.

I also experience people being able to shift from the content to the process of what is happening. This allows people to unpack what is really getting in the way of collaboration, ownership, and embracing diverse thinking.  

The level of psychological safety increases, leading to greater trust, resilience, honesty and robustness.

People report a greater sense of connectedness, reducing the deep sense of relational poverty that exists in the world today.

How can other practitioners’ access and make use of your material?  

Until my book comes out, the best way to access the material is through the six articles I published on LinkedIn. These articles provide a detailed understanding of the core concepts and offer clear examples of how they can be used.

You can see these articles here:

Article 1: It's time to have a different conversation about mental health
Article 2: The Science of the Relational Brain
Article 3: Bringing Relational Wealth & Economic Wealth into Harmony
Article 4: The Eight Principles of Relational Capacity
Article 5: The Individual Practices of Relational Capacity
Article 6: The Relational Space

I would also encourage anyone interested in understanding more about building Relational Capacity to connect with me via LinkedIn or email.

How would you advise them to approach using the material?  

I would invite practitioners to approach the material with curiosity rather than a desire to master it or get it right!  

This mindset is crucial as learning something new often challenges our biases and beliefs. By approaching this journey with curiosity, practitioners are more likely to engage with the material in a way that fosters genuine understanding and growth.

I would encourage them to try just one thing – the thing that resonates most or feels manageable. It’s less about proficiency and more about exploration and integration of the concepts – they will quickly come to see how interconnected the 3 Ps are.  

Working on one aspect will touch upon another, illuminating the holistic nature of relational capacity. As practitioners delve deeper, they will discover that enhancing one facet of relational capacity naturally enriches other areas, creating a ripple effect that enhances both personal and professional interactions.

What are the next steps for you?  

I truly believe in the transformative potential of Relational Capacity – not just for enhancing mental health but also for revolutionising the relational dynamics within organisations.  

So over the next 6-9 months I am focusing on three initiatives:  

My book: My book will be a comprehensive guide to building Relational Capacity. The book will distil years of research and practice into actional insights. My hope is it will serve as a resource for those looking to deepen their understanding of Relational Capacity.  

Monthly Online Group Sessions: These monthly online sessions will involve no more than 8 people to ensure a personalised and in-depth exploration of Relational Capacity. The goal is to empower practitioners to pay attention to the quality of the way they relate rather than outputs such as goals, performance measurements and mental health.  

A Specialised Course: The creation of a course which will focus on how to integrate the 3 Ps into your everyday interactions with clients, team members, and employees.  

My desire is to build a community of practice that supports ongoing learning and development of Relational Capacity.

How do you see the concept developing in future?  

There are three organisational challenges I feel worth mentioning:  

Firstly, the changing needs of the workforce – todays workforce is more generationally diverse than ever before. Each generation brings its own set of values, thinking, way of working and technological adaptiveness. While this diversity is a strength, it also presents significant challenge in fostering understanding and cooperation. Building Relational Capacity is crucial in bridging the gaps, ensuring that different generations collaborate effectively and learn from each other.  

Secondly, AI and technology – with AI and technology becoming integral to many job functions, there is a paradigm shift in how work is conducted. AI’s role in automating routine tasks allows a diverse range of professionals to focus on relational aspects of their work. As technology takes on the more mundane tasks, it emphasises the need for professionals to enhance their inter-personal skills and build their relational capacity.  

Lastly, the speed of change – driven by technological advancements and the changing needs of the workforce, demands that individuals, teams and organisations are not only technically proficient but also highly adaptable and resilient. To truly thrive at speed, we need to build our relational capacity if we are to create environments where individuals feel safe to engage in respectful candour, reveal vulnerabilities in themselves, the product, and the organisation, collaborate on problem-solving, and support each other through challenges.  

Looking ahead, I see Relational Capacity as a fundamental component of organisational strategy. By focusing on the quality of the way we relate, we can and will cultivate strong, supportive relationships and unlock a significant competitive advantage while achieving sustainable success.

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