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Relationship shadows: are you about to get backstabbed like Caesar

What do your relationship shadows look like?

Relationship shadows

Journeys begin when people meet. Whether cooperative or competitive, relationships give us a sense of belonging in the world. When thinking of relationships, people make the mistake of viewing the world from a single perspective, their own. 


People often make the mistake of believing that their view of the relationship is shared. The reality is that each of your connections is dynamic and subject to perceptions of reality, yours and theirs. 

Relationships are all about perceptual relativity; a lovely phrase that means that what you believe to be justified and true is not necessarily a shared belief. Each person will have a mental map that represents the state of the relationship. 

Each relationship casts a shadow that, like your real shadow, changes with perspective. Take a look at our three relationship shadows: A, B and C. Next, think of your relationships, which would you place in each of the categories?

Relationship shadows

Et to Brutus; are your relationship insights out-of-date?

Have you heard the one about the Roman Emperor and his best mate who stabbed him in the back? A distorted sense of reality can shock us, where friends can turn into backstabbers.

Julius Caesar believed Brutus to be one of his closest friends. Julius Caesar was correct; Brutus loved him but his love for the Roman Republic was greater. With Julius Caesar acting like a dictator, the Senate used Brutus's love for the Republic to persuade him that Caesar had to die. Brutus, along with a group of unhappy Senators, infamously stabbed Caesar to death.

Julius Caesar believed that he and Brutus were in shadow A, and Brutus's relationship with the Senators was in C. At one point in time, that was true. However, Caesar's map was out-of-date because he lacked awareness of the forces that were shaping Brutus's view of the world. Brutus's relationship with the senators had shifted to A, while his connection with Caesar had drifted to C.

David's story

As a consultant, I worked with a Manager for three years and, over time, I believed our relationship shadow grew to look like B. I also thought this perspective to be mutual. However, once the project completed, I became aware of the fact that he only ever made contact when he needed something from me. I wouldn't hear from him for months; then out of the blue, I would receive a text asking for advice on a framework or a problem in his work. He stopped asking about family or how things were with me, and I updated my map, framing our relationship in space C. The problem is that I felt used, which means that I stopped responding to his voicemails, emails and texts. After working with him closely for three years, I haven't spoken to him in two years.


What changes relationships?

Go back to Caesar and Brutus. Forces change relationships. Some of those forces you are aware of, they are in your blue zone, but your purple zone is shaping your world without your knowledge. If you are not familiar with blue and purple zones, see our Insights radar and Johari Window blog.

If you don't want to end up like Caesar, you need to develop insights that keep your world in the blue and out of the purple.

Your relationship map is your starting point, but each interaction brings you to review and update it. Each interaction can deliver one of three outcomes based on costs and benefits to you: status quo, strengthening or weakening.

Relationship shadows AND forces that change relationship shadows

In the diagram above, Brutus faces a decision as to whether he should listen to the Senators and kill Caesar (Force A). Force B is the negative cost of the action. Force C is the positive benefit gained by the act. In Brutus's case, his love of the Republic and his need to protect it far outweighed the cost, displacing Caesar's shadow from A to C. It makes you wonder what the world would look like today if Caesar had been more aware of his environment.


Three dimensions for assessing relationship shadows

There are three critical things to consider when evaluating your relationships: power-distance; sensory awareness; internal processing.

Power-Distance: consider the physical and emotional distance in the relationship, and the balance of influence or power (e.g. status, expertise, knowledge, referent, coercive, reward, moral) or degree of shared beliefs, values and standards.

Sensory-awareness: your ability to move out of the purple and into the blue! See our blog that introduces the Insights Radar, which is all about your ability to probe, sense and respond to your environment.

Internal-processing: this is about how you process environmental signals via your beliefs, values, standards and TAKES (Talent, Attitudes, Knowledge, Experience and Skills), to make judgements and take decisions.


What will you do to keep your relationship map current?

The relationship shadows never fit perfect and are continually moving. There is always something out of view, but you can improve your insights by using tools like our 100 powerful self-coaching questions or Insight Spaces.

The other option is to do what Caesar did and leave it to chance, and we all know how that turned out.


Feeling connected is vital to creating a Good Life + Good Work experience for you and those around you. It starts with knowing more about yourself, who you are, and what brings you a sense of meaning, belonging and achievement.

To help your journey of discovery, we created the Good Life + Work Insight Space. This powerful space allows you to learn more about yourself and how you shape a Good Life + Good Work environment for others. The best part, it's FREE.


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