Stanford GSB: 6 Traits That Build Successful Relationships

Stanford GSB. Courtesy photo

Stanford GSB: 6 Traits That Build Successful Relationships

Relationships are critical to long-term business success.

At the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), the researchers behind the most popular MBA course, Interpersonal Dynamics, recently highlighted six important traits that forge strong relationships. David Bradford and Carole Robin, co-authors of “Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends and Colleagues,” defined what these important traits are and how each contribute to successful relationships in a CNBC article.


‘Spin your image’ — or putting up a false front — can hinder forming strong relationships. When one spins their image, Bradford and Robin say, it in turn leads the other to create their own spin.

“For example, we knew a CEO who had just taken over his father’s company,” Bradford and Robin write. “During his first meeting with the leadership team, he talked about the weight and responsibility he felt to do right by his father’s legacy. He assured them that he was up to the task, but that he wouldn’t be able to succeed without them. In addition to helping the team see him as more human, it inspired them give their all and to rally around him.”


The ability to be vulnerable can be a huge asset for leaders. The fear that many leaders have, however, is that the more vulnerable they are, the less respect they receive. But Bradford and Robin say that vulnerability actually acts as a chain reaction to enforce strong relationships within an organization – and it starts at the leadership level.

“Sure, if the disclosure casts doubt on their competence to do the job, then sharing that information can cause some lost of influence,” Bradford and Rubin write. “But it can also help them be seen as more accessible and trustworthy. And, as we’ve seen time and time again, vulnerability is reciprocal. A leader who isn’t willing to be vulnerable sets a norm that doesn’t encourage others in the organization to do that either.”


There are three zones, or rings, that Bradford and Rubin categorize as the ranges of comfort: Danger, Learning, and Comfort.

The smallest ring, the Zone of Comfort, refers to “what you say that you don’t think twice about, and with which you feel completely safe.”

The outermost ring, the Zone of Danger, refers to “things you wouldn’t consider sharing given the high likelihood that the outcome will be negative.”

In the middle is the Zone of Learning, a space where “you’re unsure about how the other person will respond.”

For those who may be hesitant or afraid of falling into the Zone of Danger, Bradford and Rubin recommend the 15% rule of stepping 15% outside your comfort zone into the Zone of Learning.

“This way, you’re less likely to regret what you share (or the other person can more easily recover if things go sideways),” they write. “You can also wait to see what they do with your disclosure. Once you’ve both had good outcomes after stepping 15% outside your comfort zones, you can experiment with going beyond that.”

Read the full list of traits at CNBC.

Sources: CNBC, Stanford Graduate School of Business

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