Relationship Awareness Theory looks at how we go about establishing and maintaining relationships in order to have a positive sense of ourselves and our value as a person.
The theory (and the psychometric tests which are based on it) is the work of psychologist, clinical therapist, educator, and author Elias H. Porter PhD. It is a blend of several forms of psychological thought, and Porter has paid tribute to the behaviourist ideas of Edward Tolman, the empiricism of Kurt Lewin, the client-centred therapy of Carl Rogers and others, and the personality theories of the neo-Freudians Erich Fromm and Karen Horney.
Elias H. Porter (1914-1987)
Relationship Awareness Theory reinforces the ability of people to choose behaviours that will satisfy their underlying values while respecting the values of others. In this respect it is a valuable tool for building trust, empathy and effective, productive relationships through improved communication. It also helps them to sustain those relationships by the use and understanding of "Motivational Value Systems" of themselves and others both when things are going well and during conflict.
The theory is founded on four premises:
1. Behaviour is driven by motivation to achieve self-worth. We have a need to do the right thing, but may not agree on what the "right" thing is. This was adopted from Erich Fromm's postulate on non-productive behaviour. Porter drew from Tolman’s concept that “Behavior traits arise from purposive striving for gratification, mediated by concepts or hypotheses about how to obtain those gratifications.” When combined with his research into Fromm’s non-productive orientations and his frame of reference from University of Chicago peers Rogers and Maslow, Porter concluded that the primary motive all people share is a desire to feel worthwhile about themselves – and that each person is motivated to achieve feelings of self-worth in different ways. Porter was influenced by Freud's expression of an infantile fixation on its mother as modified by Fromm into the drive for self-worth or self-actualization.
2. Motivation changes in conflict. What we need, what motivates us, changes with conflict or stress. It has been suggested that this is his most significant contribution to the field of psychology. In his 1973 work he stated “When we are free to pursue our gratifications, we are more or less uniformly predictable, but in the face of continuing conflict or opposition we undergo changes in motivations that link into different bodies of beliefs and concepts that are, in turn, expressed in yet different behaviour traits." Porter’s description of the conflict sequence suggests that people experience changes in their motivation predictably and sequentially in up to three stages. The first stage is characterised by a concern for one’s self, the problem and the other person; the second by a concern for one’s self and the problem, and the third by a concern only for the self. The theory further states that the universal productive motive of behaviour in conflict is to preserve personal integrity and self-worth.
3. Strengths, when overdone or misapplied, can be perceived as weaknesses. Strengths taken to excess become weaknesses. This was another position of Erich Fromm that Porter adopted. One of the primary causes of conflict is the overdoing or perceived overdoing of strengths in relationships; because people experience these overdone strengths as potential threats to self-worth. He suggested that personal filters influence perception; that people tend to use their own motivational values as a standard when evaluating the behaviour of others and that the more different two people’s motivational values are from each other, the more likely they would each be to perceive the behaviours of the others as overdone.
4. Personal filters influence perceptions of self and others. Our map of reality, i.e. our perceptual filters, influence how we judge others. Porter stated that “The more clearly the concepts in a personality theory approximate how one experiences oneself, the more effectively they serve as devices for self-discovery.” This premise is consistent with Rogerian or person-centred approaches; it further connects with Rogerian thought by suggesting that the use of the theory should have congruence. Just as Rogers suggests that a person should have congruence between, their experience, awareness, and communication, Porter suggests that a psychometric test should communicate to the user in such a way that it heightens the awareness of the life-experience of the test-taker and becomes useful to the test-taker regarding making behavioural choices. Consistent with Porter’s other significant works, the emphasis was placed on practical application in relationships, not on diagnostic or predictive capabilities.
Thus Relationship Awareness Theory help people to recognise their freedom to choose their behaviours to fit in with their underlying values, while taking into account the values of others. It is a highly effective way of engaging in communication and strengthening interpersonal relationships.
The Strength Deployment Inventory
Arising out of the Relationship Awareness Theory, Porter developed a psychometric self-assessment inventory to serve as the primary Relationship Awareness learning tool for individuals and groups. The SDI comprises a suite of eight self-assessment inventories that provide valuable insight into the motivation behind behaviour and a means to understand how we see ourselves, learn how others see us, and gain awareness of expectations in our respective roles. It is, inevitably, a great resource and tool in effective team building situations.
Appended are two links to further information online about the Strength Deployment Inventory, and a further link to an online self-assessment test which, however, is not free of charge and will cost a minimum of £75.00 plus VAT in the United Kingdom.