Better Business Relationships and DACRIE - A model to enhance business relationships

This article “A model to enhance business relationships” was published in the March 2019 edition of Ambition (the magazine of the Association of MBAs). It describes the DACRIE model which is the basis of the book by Kim Tasso “Better Business Relationships – Insights from psychology and management for working in a digital world”.

The DACRIE model pulls together management and psychological theory into a structured framework, to support the understanding of relationships – which underpin all business success.

MBA students learn a lot about business: strategy, planning, financial management, human resources, marketing, technology, operations, innovation and change management. However, business and management knowledge is not, in itself, sufficient to ensure an organisation’s success.

There is increasing evidence of the importance of so-called ‘soft’ skills. These equate to the ability to get on with all manner of people and form effective relationships. As a topic, soft skills are often omitted from Business School lectures and case studies. The ability to forge effective business relationships appears to be assumed.

In 2012, futurologist Ian Pearson predicted that the majority of jobs would become automated, with humans relegated to a parallel ‘care economy’ based on emotional skills rather than physical or intellectual abilities. His suggestion was that those who mastered human skills would be those most likely to remain employable and these people would earn significantly more than those relying solely on physical or intellectual skills.

There’s a generational issue at play in the workplace. Current business leaders grew up in a different environment from the one that exists today. They have experience in how to create productive business relationships – often learned through trial and error – but sometimes fail to connect with the younger generation. The new entrants into the workforce (“Millennials”, “Generation Y” or the “Facebook generation”) have less respect for age or seniority and expect to be treated equally.

The younger generation has a different context for creating relationships in a digital world where the boundaries between formal and social relationships have become blurred. Some also suggest that Millennials are less patient, more concerned about short-term progress and better equipped to change.

I pulled together more than 25 years’ experience in business and in management studies with a wealth of psychology knowledge to develop the DACRIE model of business relationships to help both the older and younger generations.

Difference and diversity

Diversity in the workplace has been shown to lead to improved thinking and decision-making. Yet, working with people who are significantly different is challenging. The first part of the DACRIE model is about increasing self-awareness and self-knowledge. It then extends into an appreciation of the differences in other people and the potential impact of these differences on business relationships.

A starting point is basic knowledge of how our brains work and the interplay between rational cognition and irrational emotions. There is  a difference in fast and slow thinking (for example, the ideas of psychologist Daniel Kahneman) and the huge quantity of processing that takes place quickly in our brains at a subconscious level. Boosting our awareness of these subconscious processes makes it easier to recognise and accept differences between people.

It is important to understand perception. Human understanding is shaped by the filters we use which are generated by our unique mental map of the world. This is formed through our childhood experiences, education and culture and a myriad of other things. Other people’s filters may lead them to perceive us differently to how we intend. A critical issue in today’s digital world is balancing being authentic – true to ourselves – with adapting our style to ease communication with others.

Emotions are critically important. Scientists have found that when the area of the brain where emotions are processed is damaged, decision-making is not possible.

Emotional Intelligence (or “EI” or “EQ”) constitutes our ability to recognise and manage our emotions as well as recognise the emotions of others (through empathy). Authors Travis Bradbury and Jean Greaves’ research shows that, when tested alongside 33 other important skills, EQ subsumes the majority of them including time management, decision making and communication. They found that EQ accounts for 58% of performance in all types of jobs and is the single biggest predictor in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence. 90% of high performers are also high in EQ – and people with high EQ make more money.

Another difference is personality (the combination of characteristics and traits that form an individual’s distinctive character). There are many assessment models to help understand the impact of these on relationships. In teams, you need to help people recognise these differences and value others’ strengths rather than fight against them.

In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP – a form of applied psychology popularised by psychologist Richard Bandler, psychologist and management consultant John Grinder and anthropologist Gregory Bateson) there is an exploration of cognitive styles and sensory preferences (whether people prefer visual, auditory or kinaesthetic modes of information). The younger generation’s preference for video content also needs to be taken into account.

Differences in gender, race, generation and culture must be considered. In addition, there are different relationship styles which explore whether people are inwardly or outwardly focused and whether their priority is the task at hand or the feelings of others. One model results in four styles: Harmoniser, Energiser, Practical and Forceful. Meredith Belbin’s well-known team roles (Co-ordinator, Shaper, Plant, Resource-Instigator, Monitor-Evaluator, Team worker, Implementor, Completer Finisher and Specialist) are still considered useful in designing great teams.

Adaptation and learning

The second stage of the DACRIE model is about learning how to adapt and change – as individuals and as organisations. 70% and 90% of our behaviour is habit, and as author Campbell MacPherson wrote in AMBITION in 2017, 88% of organisational change initiatives fail.

In management, the focus is often on change management programmes, while in psychology the spotlight is on how individuals make transitions – and emotions play a significant role. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is known for work around the personal change cycle in which people go through stages of shock, denial, anger, blame, resentment, depression, self-blame, experimentation and acceptance. Individuals need different timeframes to make their transition and adapt their mind sets, attitudes and values.  

Since people have various learning styles (for example, “Activists” learn from experience, “Reflectors”  on reflection, “Theorists” like to come to conclusions and “Pragmatists” prefer to plan) the change process needs to accommodate these differences. Learning and development programmes need to have the right balance if training is to be effective.

Change does not occur until survival anxiety outweighs learning anxiety. Learning anxiety involves fears of temporary incompetence, punishment for incompetence, loss of personal identity and loss of group membership. People experience stress in different ways – particularly when they step out of their comfort zones which they are often required to do in order to learn and exhibit new behaviours.

It is necessary to understand the principles of the core models of psychology (Behavioural, Cognitive, Psychodynamic and Humanistic) that explain human behaviour before embarking on a change programme. For example, performance management, reward policies and 360 degree feedback come from the Behaviourist approach, whereas management by objectives, results based coaching and business planning stem from a Cognitive approach. Learning organisations, employee consultation and values initiatives arise from a Humanistic approach. These explanations of behaviour need to be considered at the same time as the organisational change model.

Separate groups of scientists have discovered that there is an “adaptive third” of people who make transitions more easily than the majority. From studying both personal trauma and organisational change, they found that a third of people adapt more easily by focusing on the future rather than dwelling on the past.

The foresighted work of psychiatrist Dr Edward Hallowell – in his 2007 book “Crazy busy: Overstretched, overbooked and about to snap” contains valuable insight into dealing with stress by being mindful and developing resilience. He understood the challenges and stress caused by the faster pace of digital life and how it can lead to conditions such as Attention Deficity Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults. The new discipline of cyberpsychology has emerged to try to understand the physiological and emotional impact of online interaction.


Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. The starting point is effective face-to-face communication and the role of non-verbal communication in different cultures. A 2017 Harvard Business Review (HBR) report found a face-to-face request is 34 times more likely to be accepted than one not made in person.

The disappearing art of effective telephone communication – where visual cues  are unavailable – needs to be reclaimed if we are to avoid the numerous problems of email communications. Etiquette in formal and informal business communication – both in traditional and digital media – is something that many organisations want to include in their policies and training programmes.

Storytelling improves engagement and retention. The self-referencing effect is when people encode information differently depending on the level in which they are implicated. Recall is improved as emotions strengthen the memory. During a story there can be neural mirroring (the brain waves of the reader mimic those of the storyteller) and dopamine release which improves engagement. Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts or figures (see “Experiments on story understanding and recall” by Gordon H. Bower, 2007). These ideas must be built into guidelines for public speaking and presentations – with regards to both content and delivery.  

There is still a huge amount of communication through writing – even in the digital age. Expertise in business writing, journalism and content development are required to guide staff for business reports, emails, blogs and social media.

Psychologist Robert Cialdini proposed six principles of persuasion: scarcity, reciprocation, consistency, social proof, likeability and authority which can be incorporated into both spoken and written communication.

Relationship formation and conflict management

In my research, I have looked into various models of relationship competency, analysed different types of relationships and considered ways in which relationships are formed – including business and digital relationships.

Proponents of NLP suggest that we have a natural rapport with between 10%-30% of the people we meet. And there is considerable material on how to create rapport and trust with those with whom we don’t.

As all relationships experience divergence, difficulty, differences and disputes I have analysed the causes of such problems – many of them based on misunderstanding, unaligned expectations and hurt feelings. You need to understand the cause of different types of difficult behaviour – including bullying, interrupting, perfectionism and stubbornness – before you can offer effective strategies for dealing with them. Emotions – especially anger – in conflict are common so again EQ is important.

Daniel Goleman, an NLP expert, has argued that the six core competencies for relationship management are: inspire, influence, develop, initiate change, establish collaboration and conflict management. You can learn how to prevent and manage conflict (particularly by understanding how to exit conflict spirals) and manage conflict using negotiation tactics to achieve a win:win solution. Amongst the most powerful ideas in conflict resolution are perception, perspective, power and punctuation.

Internal relationships

Emotional commitment is four times stronger than rational commitment and a company with high employee commitment delivers two to three times more shareholder value. I looked into workplace culture and internal politics to discover how individuals integrate into new work environments and teams.

I’ve also looked at the idea of assertiveness and how to modify aggressive, passive and passive-aggressive styles which can thwart collaboration. A challenge for many relationships is persuading others to support your ideas.

There is significant help in the area of  stakeholder engagement. Heidi Grant, in her book “Reinforcements: How to get people to help you” provides psychological insights that can help improve collaboration between people.

Working as part of a team and understanding how teams form is vital for those entering the workplace and for organisations where matrix structures or project work is common. Each organisation, and sometimes each team within a business, may have its own culture and different types of internal political behaviour. There’s a part for employees to play as ‘ambassadors’ of an organisation – supporting the brand promise in customer interactions and achieving differentiation.

The concepts of “in group”, “out group” and “Group Think” are important in helping people work together and avoid silo mentality or flawed decision making. Those managing teams – and the modern challenges of maintaining engagement in virtual teams across locations and time zones – need help navigating the difficulties in business relationships where there is little face-to-face contact.

Goal setting and clarity in roles and responsibilities is critical for team performance. The work of Nancy Kline, President of Time To Think, an international coaching and leadership development company, found that change takes place best where there is a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback.

Neuroscientist Naomi Eisenberger showed that there appears to be five social rewards and threats that are deeply important to the brain: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. Some people can experience feedback as an attack on their ‘status,’ which the brain perceives like a physical attack. This is relevant with members of the younger generation who are often keen to receive constructive feedback but may not have the necessary emotional maturity to deal with it.    

Leaders need to understand the basics of motivation if they are to get the best from their people. Psychology offers a wealth of models of motivation depending on the nature of the people to be motivated, the task and the situation.

External relationships

The starting point for this final section of the DACRIE model is about managing customer and client expectations and satisfaction whether in a consumer or business-to-business environment. Client Experience Management (CEM) is an increasingly important topic and the role of employees at all the touchpoints of a client journey demands that training and support is provided to help everyone play their part.

The creation of new business relationships starts with an understanding of the relationship between self-esteem and self-confidence and how these affect first impressions, personal impact and personal power.

My study into networking found two strategies: ‘cast your net wide’ and find value in everyone you meet and a more targeted approach where you identify in advance who you need to know. In today’s social media environment, there’s a need to help employees develop clarity in personal  messaging – a value proposition of sorts – and how this translates into ‘Brand Me’. Networking skills – including influencer marketing and social selling – are in demand at present to make the best use of time spent in online interactions.

Buyer psychology, decision-making processes and the decision making unit are key concepts in selling. The relative merits of classical, consultative and insight selling approaches should be compared. People need to understand the significant material  on cognitive bias too as even in the most business-oriented scenarios, our brains and emotions still have the upper hand.

Selling skills cover a vast range of personal and interpersonal skills such as questioning, active listening, persuasion, objection handling and closing. Many organisations have training programmes that attempt to teach sales techniques without providing the psychological context in which purchase decisions are made.

When we look at typical sales situations, for example, first meetings with potential clients, pitching and tendering, key account management (KAM) and referral management, we see that a wide range of different interpersonal skills have to be deployed in a short space of time simultaneously.

As someone whose 30 year career has spanned immersion in the commercial world and a life time study of psychology, it seems to me that everyone – regardless of age – needs to be able to tap into this information to accelerate the development of effective business relationships And no-one has time to read books on each and every one of the many topics that are part of the process. I looked at the building blocks – difference, adaptation and communications. I then examined how they combined to support relationships whether generally as well as internal team-based relationships and external sales-oriented relationships.

Kim Tasso is a psychologist and management consultant with an MBA and experience of development and implementing strategy, change and training programmes at more than 200 firms. Her book, Better Business Relationships, brings together knowledge, insight and advice from psychology and management to communications and sales to provide guidance to both new and more experienced business people with both internal colleagues and external clients.

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