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A General Law Of Interpersonal Relationships Published: Tuesday, September 30, 1997 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

The 1990s are rediscovering the profound work of serious thinkers of the 1960s. This is the case of Carl R. Rogers, founder of client-centered therapy, developer of a humanistic process for becoming a human person and formulator of a solid philosophy of human beings and its implications for everyday life. AsRogershimself acknowledged, the purpose of his work was to share his own experience. He instructed of what he had experienced in the jungles of modern social and institutional life, in the largely unmapped territory of personal relationships. The provocative research question was the following: Would it be possible to formulate, in one hypothesis, the elements which make, any relationship, either growth - facilitating or reverse. The idea was to approach such problems as: supervisor - supervisee relationships; labor - management relationships; executive training encounters; interpersonal relations among top management. The purpose of such a complex exercise was to establish the extent to which learnings in the field of psychotherapy apply to human relationships in general. The core argument was that the theory of interpersonal relationships was a fundamental component of a larger structure of theory in client-centered therapy. (I have strongly argued theRogersis one of early pioneers of customer-satisfaction approaches and student-centered pedagogy, among other interesting formulations).

The formidable general law relates to a perceived underlying orderliness in all human relationships, an order which determines whether the relationships will make for the growth, enhancement, openness and development of both individuals or whether it will make inhibition of growth and for defensiveness and barriers in both parties.

To better understand this interpretation it is relevant to position the concept of congruence. It points to an accurate matching of experiencing, awareness and communication.

A synthetic statement of the general law of interpersonal relationships is the following. Assuming (a) a minimal willingness on the part of two people to be in contact; (b) an ability and minimal willingness on the part of each to receive communication from each other; and (c) assuming the contact to continue over a period of time; then the following relationship is hypothesized to hold true. The greater the congruence of experience, awareness and communication on the part of one individual, the more the ensuing relationship will evolve: a tendency toward reciprocal communication with a quality of increasing congruence; a tendency toward more mutually accurate understanding of the communications; improved psychological adjustment and functioning in both parties; mutual satisfaction in the relationship. Inversely, the greater the incongruence of experience and awareness, the more absence of quality in the interaction process, and hence, disintegration of accurate understanding, less adequate psychological adjustment and functioning in both parties; and mutual dissatisfaction in the relationship.

The rogerian management challenge is how to relate congruence to communication in interpersonal relationship. For example:

  • Any communication ofCocoto Guillermo is marked by some degree of congruence with Guillermo.
  • The greater the congruence of experience, awareness and communication in Coco, the more is likely that Guillermo will experience it as a clear communication. If all cues from speech, tone and gesture are unified because they spring from a congruence and unity in Coco, then there is much less likelihood that these cues will have ambiguous or unclear meaning to Guillermo.
  • The more clear communication from Coco, the more Guillermo responds with clarity. Even if Guillermo might be quite incongruent in his experiencing of the topic under discussion, nevertheless his response will have more clarity and congruence in it than if he had experienced Coco`s communication as ambiguous.
  • The more that Coco is congruent in the topic about which they are communicating, the less he has to defend himself against in this area, and the more able he is to listen accurately to Guillermo`s response. Coco has expressed what he genuinely feels. He is therefore more free to listen. the less he is presenting a facade to be defended, the more he can listen accurately to what Guillermo is communicating.
  • To this degree, Guillermo feels empathically understood. He feels that in so far as the has expressed himself, (and whether this defensively or congruently) Coco has understood pretty much as he sees himself, and as he perceives the topic under consideration.
  • For Guillermo to feel understood is for him to experience positive regard for Coco. This is a fundamental dimension. To feel that more one is understood is to feel that one has made some kind of positive difference in the experience of another.
  • To the degree that Guillermo (a) experiences Coco as congruent or integrated in this relationship; (b) experiences Coco as having positive regard for him; (c) experiences Coco as being empathically understanding; to that degree the conditions of a healthy relationship are established.
  • To the extent that Guillermo is experiencing such conditions he finds himself experiencing fewer obstacles to communication. He tends to communicate more as he is, more congruently and his defensiveness decreases.
  • Having communicated himself more freely, with less of defensiveness, Guillermo is more able to listen accurately without need to defensive distortion.
  • To the degree that Guillermo is able to listen, Coco now feels empathically understood; experiences Guillermo`s positive chemistry; and finds himself experiencing a healthy relationship.
  • This means that the process of interaction, communication and outcome occurs in each of them, laying the foundation of unity and integration.

This simple and profound guiding rules relate to achieving less conflict and developing more usable energy for mature and effective change in behavior.

Copyright 1997 QBS, Inc.
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