Is this the secret to life and the universe? The Communication Pyramid

How do we connect in an emotionally intelligent way with our colleagues and employees

Is this the secret to life and the universe? The Communication Pyramid.

If only… but this model makes a very good case for explaining how to improve relationships.

 At each tier of the Communication Pyramid, every one of us is taking a risk by disclosing something more about ourselves and our inner world. We can’t change the behaviour of others, but we can change our own behaviour which can then affect a change in others! 

The Communication Pyramid- The Leadership Trust

 The Communication Pyramid

Working from the bottom of the Pyramid upwards:

Ritual and Routine – These are the interactions we are all familiar with. Those ones about holidays, the weather or how bad your journey to work is.

They may be entirely appropriate for people who we may never see again, or we have no need/desire to extend the depth of the relationship.

These interactions often just oil the wheels of daily social life.

Gossip and Fact – This arises when you know people quite well, maybe at home or in the office. It’s still fairly superficial but it’s one step up from the previous as you may be sharing information you may know, e.g. in the office: who is doing what at next week’s meeting,  who’s in trouble with the boss; at home: what’s happening about sorting out the electricity bill, surprising news about the impending divorce of a relative.

Ideas and Judgements – Moving further up the Pyramid requires us to disclose more, take a risk and hope the other person will reciprocate. Often, they do. Most people increasingly buy into the idea of, “I’ll share this inner thought with you if you’ll share one of yours.” It is a way to connect, empathise, build rapport and get that feeling that the relationship feels closer than just someone you bump into in the lift. This level is where you may share things that are not necessarily very emotional (that’s the next stage) but as a precursor to this, they are things you certainly wouldn’t ask someone in that lift! For example, “What do you think about Brexit?” “Were your parents religious?” “How come you didn’t have children?” 

Emotions and Feelings – We are now getting to the point where there are less people that we would say we were at this level in our relationships. Perhaps close family, friends and colleagues who we can admit vulnerability to? This can be the person who we can be honest and authentic with when we are having a rubbish day, who we feel will not judge us or freak out if we get angry and upset. If you want to build a real, open and honest relationship with someone then you have to be prepared to go to this level and you may have to go first if they don’t. Some people are braver than others.

Intimacy – You may feel emotional intimacy with very few people on the planet. It could be seen as an honour and deep sense of love for a fellow human at this level. Sadly some people never reach this level even with life partners. When at this level you will feel you can both tell each other your deepest, darkest secrets, prejudices and biases without fear or judgment, rejection or criticism. They really ‘get’ you!

Of course, you have to judge these levels correctly or you may scare people by leaping up too many levels too soon. The oft-heard cry of, “Gosh, they were too intense too quickly”, is someone misreading how much to self-disclose, and the other person being further down the Pyramid than them.

You may be the person trying to move your relationship up a level but not getting a response back. They may not want that with you or be ready to yet, so bear that in mind.

A lesson for me, personally, was that a relationship failed because he did not have the ability to move past gossip/fact level, which then became unfulfilling for me. I have also had first dates (and great coaching sessions) where we feel we have gone straight in at ideas/judgements, which is such an exciting feeling to connect with someone immediately in that way.

In the world of work, we have to ensure that the relationships we are seeing are appropriate but that conversations (1:1s for managers) are set up in a way that can engender a possible move up the pyramid. For when we connect in an emotionally intelligent way with our colleagues and employees, then this leads to more harmonious, honest conversations, happier people… and happy people are ultimately productive people.

To talk to Julia about any of the ideas set out above, please do call or email.


1 year ago : Aug 17, 2020

By Julia Menaul