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  • Toby Sinclair

Connect Book Summary by David Bradford Carole Robin - Building Exceptional Relationships

Connect Book Summary

⭐ Toby's Rating: 10/10 - Recommended For: Everyone

3 Big Ideas 💡

Learn how to build exceptional relationships in connect book by David Bradford Carole Robin:

  1. Most relationships are not exceptional. It is exceptional relationships that enable people to succeed in life and work. The challenge - exceptional relationships are exceptionally hard to develop.

  2. Giving and receiving feedback is critical to developing an exceptional relationship. When giving feedback there are three realities. Many people misunderstand these realities which leads to ineffective feedback.

  3. Letting yourself be more fully known is crucial to developing exceptional relationships. Self-disclosure creates more opportunities to connect and increases trust.

2 Best Quotes from Connect Book 💬

Feedback starts a conversation. It doesn’t end it.
When people feel emotionally met, they feel fully heard, understood, seen, accepted, and not judged.

Tobys Top Takeaway

Connect book by David Bradford and Carole Robin is possibly the best book I've read this year. Highly practical, easy to read and well structured. Within the book are several exercises to help you implement the ideas.

Connect led me to this insight: I have a hard time with self-disclosure.

The authors share how self-disclosure is a crucial part of building exceptional relationships. Without it, most relationships will not deepen. Self-disclosure helps build trust and intimacy. I've often used the excuse of "lack of psychological safety" as a reason for not disclosing. This quote challenged this viewpoint:

What comes first, safety or disclosure? It can be easy to think, “Until I know I can trust that person and be accepted, I’m not going to take the risk of disclosing. I need to first know how they’re going to respond.” The causal direction has to be reversed—that risking a small disclosure is what builds safety. If each person waits for the other to take a risk, little progress is ever made.

To change the authors suggest a 15% disclosure. This is a small disclosure that doesn't expose you to high risk. It enables you to test how the other person responds, hopefully with a disclosure of their own. This builds safety in the relationship. Over time the disclosures become deeper and more important.


Big Ideas Expanded 💡

The main ideas from Connect book by David Bradford and Carole Robin

Exceptional Relationships

This book is about how to develop exceptional relationships. When you don’t have to hold back significant parts of yourself that are relevant to the relationship—nor does the other person. It’s when you can easily say that you’re feeling uncertain or confused about what is going on with the other person and with you, so that you can talk about it. It’s when you can deal with major issues, even though it feels scary.

6 Hallmarks of exceptional relationships:

  1. You can be more fully yourself, and so can the other person.

  2. Both of you are willing to be vulnerable.

  3. You trust that self-disclosures will not be used against you.

  4. You can be honest with each other.

  5. You deal with conflict productively.

  6. Both of you are committed to each other’s growth and development.

Exceptional Relationships infographic

The Arc of Relationships

  1. They often start with a common interest, like music or hiking.

  2. To go deeper you move past these initial stages of getting to know each other and begin to communicate more openly and personally.

  3. As you become more important to each other, the relationship also becomes increasingly complex. Obligations and expectations build, as do potential points of contention.

  4. As the healthy relationship develops, you avoid power imbalances so that you each get roughly the same amount of satisfaction.

  5. You build interdependence that makes it easy to ask for help when you need it and to turn it down when it’s not useful.

  6. To progress even further, you have to significantly increase your level of disclosure and risk-taking. There is an even greater risk since you both now have skin in the game.

  7. Conflict occurs but fully resolving the conflict strengthens the connection—you are moving toward exceptional territory.

Importance of Self-Disclosure

“We’re so accustomed to disguising ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.”

François de La Rochefoucauld

Letting yourself be more fully known is crucial to developing exceptional relationships. Self-disclosure creates more opportunities to connect and increases trust.

There are two areas of potential self-disclosure. The first is content, but the second is your feelings and concerns about sharing the content.

The point is, it’s a risk. But there’s also a risk in playing your cards too close to your vest; unfortunately, the closer I hold my cards, the closer you are likely to hold yours. You can’t get to deeper relationships without disclosure.

One common concern people have about disclosure—especially when it involves revealing things that might appear as defects—is that others will see them as weak.

What comes first, safety or disclosure? It can be easy to think, “Until I know I can trust that person and be accepted, I’m not going to take the risk of disclosing. I need to first know how they’re going to respond.” The causal direction has to be reversed—that risking a small disclosure is what builds safety. If each person waits for the other to take a risk, little progress is ever made.

Listening To and Understanding Others

To build exceptional relations you must “Meet someone where they are”.

4 behaviours that build relationships:

  1. Speaking to what they want as opposed to what you want

  2. Responding at the same emotional level

  3. Seeing the world as they see it

  4. Responding to what the other really wants

Fundamentally building relationships starts with being curious. Being curious is a lot more complicated than it seems. At one end of the continuum, you truly don’t understand something at all, and at the other end, you think you know all about it and are just asking questions to test your hypothesis. A problem with the latter is that you’re probably not genuinely curious. You’ve largely made up your mind and are “leading the witness” to prove your case. That stance is unlikely to encourage the other to be more open and revealing.

Advice hinders relationships. Yet it's one of the most common behaviours in relationships. When people face challenges we can't help but give advice.

Advice is rarely useful.

5 reasons why Advice is often not helpful:

  1. Our eagerness to help often causes us to jump in with a solution that comes out of our own experience or doesn’t fit the situation. Rarely do we come up with an option the other person hasn’t already considered (and likely discarded).

  2. It can increase the power discrepancy between two people. The person with an issue might feel one-down to start with, and if the other person acts as though they have the answer, that can exacerbate the gap.

  3. It’s easy to misunderstand what the other really wants.

  4. People tend to respond in terms of what they would do rather than fully taking into account how the other best operates.

  5. It can keep you from discovering what is really going on for the other person.

“It’s better to have the wrong solution to the right problem than the right solution to the wrong problem”—because you will discover it’s the wrong solution much sooner.

A good question to ask prior to giving advice:

“Am I giving advice to meet my needs or because I really want to help?”

Behaviours that help people to be fully known:

  • Listening actively to try to fully understand them

  • Suspending judgment and not trying to quickly figure out what’s going on with them

  • Being curious and inquiring about what is important to them

  • Using open-ended questions to encourage them to share more

  • Listening for emotions and helping their full expression (for instance, “You sound more than a little annoyed; what are you feeling?”)

  • Empathizing—especially with feelings (“That really sounds upsetting”)

  • Showing acceptance (“I can really understand why you would react that way”)

Conversely, these behaviours close down the relationship

  • Only half listen because you are thinking about (or have already decided) how to respond

  • Change the conversation rather quickly to talk about yourself or things that interest you

  • Think you have figured out what is really going on for them

  • Ask leading questions to make sure they accept your conclusions

  • Ignore their feelings and use logic to make your case

  • Make judgments about their comments or actions

  • Don’t empathize with their situation

Pinches and Crunches

Pinches are small annoyances, irritations and frustrations. In isolation, they might not be a big deal but over time can grow. They culminate in a crunch. A bigger moment of frustration and emotion.

Pinches are often kept secret because:

  • Fear that raising them seem thin-skinned and petty.

  • Fear that speaking up might make things worse.

  • We assume the other meant no harm.

Once a pinch grows this way, it threatens to become a crunch. Crunches are much more problematic than pinches because, in addition to the likelihood that much stronger feelings now exist, you’re also more likely to have developed a negative story about the other person.

Feedback Develops Relationships To Exceptional Levels

“I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.”

Plutarch - Greek philosopher

Feedback starts a conversation. It doesn’t end it.

When giving feedback it's important to be aware of the three realities:

  • Reality 1 - Your intent - Only known by the feedback provider

  • Reality 2 - Observable behaviour - visible to both people

  • Reality 3 - The impact - Only known by the feedback receiver

Each person can only know 2 of the three realities.

Connect Feedback Model

It's easy to confuse the three realities. For example, behaviour is something you can point to—words, gestures, and even silence are all forms of behaviour.

There’s a big difference between personality and behaviour. Personality is extremely difficult to change—if you’re an extrovert, you’re unlikely to become introverted no matter how hard you try. That doesn’t mean you can’t work on leaving more space for others to speak, which is a behaviour.


  • “You are dominating the discussion,” is not an observable behaviour; it is a judgment made based on a series of behaviours.

  • "You interrupted Steve on three occasions" is observable and quantifiable.

3 qualities of good feedback:

  1. Describe your own reality (“I don’t see myself that way”) without explaining or justifying yourself

  2. Acknowledge and respect the other person's reaction as valid.

  3. Ask for an observable behaviour that demonstrates the feedback.

Below are the reasons you might have difficulty giving feedback.

  • Not staying on your side of the net; making attributions of the other’s motives and intentions.

  • Not identifying what you are feeling (especially vulnerable emotions like hurt, rejection, and sadness).

  • Not conveying your intent in giving it.

  • Giving feedback in too-general terms. For example, being indirect, being nonspecific about the actual behavior, or sugarcoating the impact so the receiver misses your point.

  • Withholding/downplaying feedback out of a need to be well thought of or respected. Needing to be liked, seen as a “nice person.” Wanting to please others.

  • Worrying about being wrong or that the other will deny it. Thinking, It’s my problem, so I’m being selfish to impose it on someone else.

  • Worrying that the relationship might be harmed or permanently disrupted; believing that harmony in a relationship depends upon the absence of conflict.

  • Fearing of conflict. Not feeling sure you have the skills to manage it.

  • Feeling discomfort with challenging or confronting—especially figures of authority.

  • Being concerned about whether the other will retaliate or give you feedback.

In almost every case, we have choices, and how the other person responds makes some choices easier and others more difficult.

Helping People Change

R < D × V × F

Richard Beckhard

  • R = “resistance to change.” In order for change to happen, the product of the other three variables has to be larger than the resistance.

  • D = “dissatisfaction,” meaning you need to be aware of the cost of your present behaviour.

  • V = “vision,” meaning you need to see the benefit of new behaviour and believe that the result will be worth the effort

  • F = “first steps,” meaning you believe you can acquire new skills that make change easier.

When you conclude too quickly that a certain set of behaviours is “the way that person is and will always be,” you might be doing them an injustice. Instead, try to understand all the factors that perpetuate that pattern of behaviour.

When people ask for a change, people often interpret this at the extremes. "I must stop doing this completely". Often when you want somebody to modify a behaviour, you don’t have something that extreme in mind. It's better to think of the behaviour as a dial to be turned down a bit as opposed to a switch to be turned off.

Typical barriers people put up when faced with change:

  • Denial “No, I don’t do that. I think you’re imagining that.”

  • Defensiveness “I don’t do that very much. This was just an exception, and anyway, others do it as well.”

  • Explanations/excuses “The reason that I did it was because…” “This is what you do that makes me do that: …”

  • Retaliating “Well, you do things that are a problem. This is what you do.”

  • Blaming “You raised the issue in the wrong way.” “It’s because you didn’t handle it properly.”

  • Putting the other down “I’m disappointed in you.” “I had hoped that you would have done better.”

  • Questioning motives “Aren’t you raising this issue so that you can dominate?”

When someone puts up these barriers, they’re not really hearing the message. The feedback giver will often back away or refrain from offering feedback in the future.

Common Traps to resolving contentious issues

  1. Rushing to judgment

  2. Either/or thinking

  3. Arguing about solutions rather than focusing on needs

  4. Treating opinions as facts

  5. Confusing “experiments” with final decisions

  6. Undervaluing personal needs

  7. Not taking account of personal styles

  8. Deciding who implements what

Emotional Understanding

6 behaviours that prevent you from helping someone change:

  1. Assuming “That’s the way they are; that’s their personality”

  2. Lacking clarity in your feedback (about specific behaviour and impact on you or on what you need)

  3. Assuming change is easier than it is

  4. Lacking persistence and patience

  5. Neglecting to use D × V × F (dissatisfaction × vision × first steps)

  6. Wanting the change for your sake and not taking into account what the other wants

When people feel emotionally met, they feel fully heard, understood, seen, accepted, and not judged. That requires hearing beyond the words and listening for underlying meaning.

5 behaviours that help someone feel emotionally met:

  1. Active listening demonstrates to the speaker that you understand them.

  2. Paraphrasing/acknowledging feelings.

  3. Active empathy—for example, saying things like “That sounds really crummy,”

  4. Conveying care.

  5. Suspending judgment and engaging in curiosity and inquiry. This means asking open-ended questions

Overcoming Relationship Fears

The fears people hold in relationships often inhibit them from becoming exceptional. They stop people from taking risks and being vulnerable. It is only when we can manage our fears and take the necessary risks that exceptional becomes possible.

6 relationship fears:

  • Fear of being negatively judged.

  • Fear of your commitment and vulnerability not being reciprocated.

  • Fear of making mistakes.

  • Fear that what you ask for will not be met,

  • Fear of damaging the relationship

  • Fear of rejection - if someone really knew you—all of you—they would reject you.

At the end of connect book is a helpful summary of the key ideas. Here is a sample of the ideas in that summary:

To build exceptional relationships:

  1. Express your emotions.

  2. Use the 15 Percent Rule for increasing self-disclosure in building relationships.

  3. Be vulnerable, in most cases the benefits far exceed the costs.

  4. Vulnerability can come much more out of strength than out of weakness.

  5. Build conditions where the other person is willing to disclose and be more themselves.

  6. Listen to their feelings and encouraging their full expression is crucial in that process.

  7. Don't rush to judgment but instead to be curious when you don’t initially understand the other or they do something that upsets you.

  8. Value the other’s uniqueness as opposed to requiring that they be just like you.

  9. Giving advice is limiting. Open-ended questions are powerful.

  10. Be empathetic, and just as you want to be more fully known and accepted, you have learned to do the same for the other person.

  11. Give and receive behaviorally specific feedback, to both raise and resolve difficulties, and to help the other see what they do well and might build on.

  12. Feedback, although challenging at times, doesn’t have to be an attack. Instead, it can be a way to surface the core issues so that both of you can jointly resolve them.

  13. Feedback truly is a gift when you are both invested in each other’s growth and in your relationship.

  14. Appreciating the power and range of emotions, you have become aware of your capacity to feel many at the same time, as well as all the ways you can block yourself from recognizing and appropriately using them.

  15. Support comes in many forms, but being supportive sometimes requires raising difficult issues that can be uncomfortable for both the giver and the recipient.

  16. Honesty starts with sticking with your reality—how the other person’s behavior is affecting you—not in providing your psychological interpretation of their motives or character.

  17. Conflict need not be destructive. If you use the feedback model, difficult issues can be raised and resolved in a way that actually strengthens the relationship.

  18. Relationships rarely develop in a straight line. It’s often “two steps forward and one step back."


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