Imagine rock climbing a vertical cliff. You don’t want to get hurt so you use a rope to catch you if you fall. You regularly loop the rope through something attached to the face. I think they call it anchoring, so I’ll call it anchoring too. How you anchor affects how you climb.
If you just anchored yourself, your rope would effectively be attached right there, so if you let go or lost your grip you wouldn’t fall. You’re safe, assuming you used effective safety equipment.
If you climbed two feet up from that anchor, your rope would be attached two feet below you, so if you let go or lost your grip you’d fall four feet. You’re relatively less safe than when you just anchored.
If you climbed five feet up from that anchor, your rope would be attached five feet below you, so if you let go or lost your grip you’d fall ten feet. You’re relatively less safe compared to when you just anchored or were only two feet up.
When you just anchored and you feel relatively safe, you can safely take risks that wouldn’t be safe if you last anchored five feet below.
The longer you go without anchoring, the less safe you are, the less safe you’ll feel, and the less risk you can take. Anchoring gives you freedom to take risks.
Confirming the status of a relationship is like anchoring on a climb. When you manage or lead someone you might ask your followers for feedback. Same in a sales context with clients. In a personal relationship you can ask the other person how they feel too.
The more dynamic your relationship, the more you benefit from confirming the status. Also, the more you understand the status, the more risks you can take. You can choose how dynamic you want to make your relationships. If you want a recent hire to feel a part of your team as fast as possible, you want to make it dynamic at first so they adapt to the team. If you want to go for a big sale with a client that hasn’t bought big from you before, you want a dynamic relationship. If you want a potential employer to consider hiring you based on your potential and desire because you don’t have much relevant experience, you benefit from taking risks in the interaction.
Dynamic doesn’t mean unstable. It can, but it doesn’t have to. You can move quickly while keeping safe and stable. Checking in with the other people in your relationships helps create that stability. I think of checking in with people like a ratchet—a device can only move in one direction, like a wrench or bicycle gear.
If you anchor regularly along the route, you can climb as high as you want while never risking a big fall. If you check in with your relationship partners you can do the same.
I do it regularly so I know my relationship’s status and increase my security and ability to take risks.
I’ve made the practice habitual enough that I start to feel something missing if I haven’t checked in in too long.
EDIT: Tomorrow’s post, “Two readers ask about confirming and anchoring in relationships,” gives some examples of how I confirm with people in various contexts.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees