Thoughtful Communication: Relational Outcomes

I worked for a few months at a family owned sandwich and bakery shop in a mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma when I was in high school.  My job was to take orders, prepare food, distribute the food, and clean up.  All the employees had the same job responsibilities.  This was my first “real” job, and I quickly learned those co-workers with whom I enjoyed working and those I did not.

I recall one lady, who was probably in her thirties, that would talk nonstop throughout the entire shift and did little work according to my calculations.  At the end of the evening, we all wanted to complete our closing jobs quickly, so we could leave.  She would continue to talk, talk, talk, and complain about why it took so long to clean up.  I remember thinking, “If you would work a little harder before closing time and stop talking, we could have this done and be out of here much sooner.”  I was not assertive enough at the time to tell her this.  So, I just complained in my mind and looked for opportunities not to work with her.  Our relationship was mediocre at best, and the output of her work was marginal.

We all come to work situations with desired outcomes regarding the relationships we would like to establish and the work that needs to get done.  I would define these two categories as relational outcomes and task outcomes.  I am going to focus on the relational outcomes in this article.  I will focus on the task outcomes in the next article.

Relational Outcomes

Relational outcomes are the “closeness” or “distance” of the relationship because of the interaction.  Relational closeness has these characteristics.

  • Positive emotional connection:  appreciation, joy, contentment, love
  • Transparent and open communication
  • Shared values
  • Shared goals
  • Trust

In contrast, relational distance has these characteristics.

  • Negative emotional conditions:  fear, anger, resentment, hate
  • Limited and guarded communication
  • Conflicting values
  • Differing goals
  • Distrust

As we navigate every relationship, it is important to consider the current state regarding the degree of closeness or distance of the relationship.  It is also important to consider what degree of closeness or distance is appropriate for the relationship.  As we reflect on the current state and the desired state, we can gain insight into what communication strategies we might use to strengthen, maintain, or distance the relationship at this time.


  • Identify one relationship you would like to improve.
  • How would you characterize this relationship based on the closeness and distance as described in the article?
  • What would you like to see improved?
  • What is one action you can take to improve the relationship?