Part Three: Personal Relationships

Trust: A Forever Work in Progress

I’ve been working on my book, The Gifts of Work, for over five years now. While the basic question that led me down the path to creating the book never changed (“What does it take to live a life where we become a better and better [i.e., more evolved] version of the best version of ourselves?”), as I started writing it, I found myself needing to dig deeper into understanding one idea and then another and another. Consequently, I’ve read hundreds of related books, articles and papers over the last several years (Amazon, you’re welcome!). While I have deepened my understanding of a lot of topics, I have also connected a number of dots in ways that have transformed the way I look at the world.

The Seven Types of Human Relationships

One of the insights I acquired from this research (an insight I’d like to take credit for but I’ll bet I’m not the first to see this or something very similar) is the notion that the vast majority of us have seven types of “relationships,” and that our overall sense of well-being is significantly dependent upon the healthiness — with trust probably being the most important characteristic — of our relationships with each of these seven types.

The seven types of human relationships (7Rs) are:

  1. Others (our one-on-one relationships)
  2. Our tribes (the various groups we belong to, not the least of which is where we hang out with our working colleagues)
  3. Ourselves (at the risk of stating the obvious)
  4. Things (literally the physical stuff we love to acquire, own, play with, etc.)
  5. Concepts (that is ideas)
  6. The Universe (it holds us all together and includes the spiritual)
  7. Time (this is really cool stuff, in my opinion, but that’s the subject of a future essay)

The gist of the 7Rs model is that the vast majority of us (research suggests about 96% of us) need (yearn may be a better word, but I believe this is a need) to have a healthy (i.e., trusting) relationship with every one of these types, and that life tends to get messy, or worse, when we let the Needs of one of these types take away one or more of our Needs and / or unalienable rights. Unalienable rights fall squarely into the fairness component inside character-based trust. Allow me to riff on a few examples:

  1. Our tribe refuses to let us exercise our unalienable right to think or associate;
  2. We let our Need for security get in the way of creating a healthy relationship with others;
  3. We focus so much on our present Needs (e.g., our relationship with things) versus our future Needs (this is where our relationship with time comes into play) that we lack the necessary discipline (future essay) to create long-term security for us, our family and / or our tribe.

While each of the 7Rs is important for almost every human being (there is always an exception to any “rule”), it is my opinion that we are deeply tribal creatures, despite the fact that many well-intentioned people dislike the term “tribe” or denounce the value of tribes.

Reality is that soon after we are born, we begin to see people not only as unique individuals, particularly our peers, but as prototypes (aka stereotypes) associated with groups (aka tribes). These tribes included parents and teachers, siblings, genders, cliques in school, other schools, etc. In time, virtually all of us find ourselves attracted to certain tribes and weary of others (and, yes, oxytocin plays a role here in both ways[1]).

Our attraction to tribes is rooted in the same core ideas as detailed by Abraham Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs. First, our familial tribe helps most of us meet our physiological and safety Needs. As we move outside of our families, we begin to form relationships with other individuals and with certain tribes to help us meet our Need for belonging.

As we move into adulthood, we start to explore the tensions associated with the conflicting Needs of our various relationships and, sooner or later, the vast majority of us learn that we are not rugged individualists. I think it’s fairly obvious that even the most talented Worker needs other talented Workers to help get his / her Work noticed and / or sold.

Consequently, we start to appreciate that not only do we enjoy being with others and find security when we belong to a tribe, we discover that our creative abilities are greatly enhanced by having strong relationships with complementary Workers, so that together we can make / build things faster, easier, better, bigger, more valuable (e.g., get people to buy them), etc. At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s tough to create when we are in “reactor” mode (fearing for our life or having someone trampling on one or more of our Needs). (My book “The Gifts of Work” was originally titled “Creators vs. Reactors,” and I still struggle with choosing between using the words “Creator” or “Worker.” In my mind, Creator and Worker are the exact same thing.)

As we continue to develop into fully formed, fully functioning, adults — research suggests this gets pretty baked for most of us somewhere between the ages of 25 to 36 — we find ourselves attracted to a variety of tribes. The reason we belong to multiple tribes is that every one of us is so extraordinarily unique, and our self-actualization is dependent upon our interactions with others. It is virtually impossible to become self-aware and achieve self-esteem without being able to compare ourselves with others, and learn about what we are really good at versus others.

As I wrote about in About Humans 101, the types of groups we are typically attracted to are based on several critical factors, including:

  1. Shared values (beliefs, behaviors, norms)
  2. Shared but complementary interests (what we like to do and learn about)
  3. Complementary competencies (they value what we bring to the table and vice versa)
  4. Shared goals (vision, purpose, whether short or long-term)
  5. Respecting our Rights
  6. Helping us meet our Needs
  7. Availability of and ability to share resources

If a tribe’s values, interests, competencies, goals and respect for our unalienable rights and Needs are not shared or complementary, it’s unlikely its members have any reason to associate with one another. In fact, it is more than likely they will find themselves in some form of conflict. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean the tribe will disband. Oftentimes the culture will just devolve (much more on culture in a future essay).

In time, as we get closer and closer to being self-actualized, our most valued tribes are comprised of groups of people who not only make us feel wanted, appreciated, safe, and inspired (i.e., to not only become a better version of ourselves but to push forward in pursuit of something that helps make the world a better place) but that we Trust.

IMO, and much more on this in Part Four, if we are a Creator / Worker who wants to be a part of building a great company (and all else being equal, what fully functional adult wouldn’t want that?), we want to help build what I’ll call a “High Trust Company” (HTC). HTCs are companies where people feel like they belong, they are meaningfully contributing, they are appreciated, they trust the company and their colleagues and the company trusts them, they love why the company exists and where the leaders want to take it, they feel like their unalienable rights are respected, their Needs are being filled, and they want to meaningfully participate in the company’s journey, full stop!

At the risk of stating the obvious, well-adjusted and enlightened Creators / Workers (i.e., those who make decisions based upon their best interests over the longer run) minimize time shared with people they don’t trust or who hurt them or bring them down or who have materially conflicting values, interests, competencies, goals and / or don’t respect their unalienable rights and Needs.

Creators know they will never be truly successful unless they Work with people they trust.

Final note, to succeed as a member of a tribe, research suggests we must be neither significantly worse nor significantly better than the rest of our immediate group. Otherwise, interests and / or goals are likely to conflict, or competencies are likely in excess of what’s needed or deficient. Obvious examples of this are team (aka a tribe) sports, especially contact sports, where it is in no one’s best interest for there to be a wide range of skills and experiences.

Consequently, Creators know they will never be truly successful (whatever that means for them) unless they Work with people they trust.

Executive Summary

  • The vast majority of human beings have seven types of human relationships (7Rs) which include: others; our tribes; ourselves; things; concepts or ideas; the Universe, and time.
  • Our Need is to have healthy relationships across all seven types.
  • The “tribes” relationship is one of the most important. As we grow, we become part of groups that fulfill our needs, starting with the familial tribe. We form relationships with other individuals and with certain tribes to help us meet our Need for belonging.
  • When we Work with others of similar values, interests, competencies and goals, we discover that our creative abilities are greatly enhanced. Together we can make / build things faster, easier, better, bigger and more valuable.
  • As Workers, we create a High Trust Companies; places where we belong, contribute, are appreciated and simultaneously feel the company respects us and has our back. This makes us want to participate more and become part of the company’s growth.
  • Creators know they will never be truly successful unless they Work with people they trust.

Reference: [1] Oxytocin appears to intensify our perception of both good and bad relationships (e.g., where men have poor relationships with their mothers) as well as making people less accepting of people they see as outsiders. In other words, whether oxytocin increases trust or suspicion depends on a host of factors.

About the Author

This article is part of a series by Mark Abbott. Mark is the Visionary/Founder of and a sought-after business leader, writer and executive-team coach. With nearly four decades of experience with early stage, small and mid-sized companies as a lender, investor and business builder, his passion centers on helping people build extraordinarily productive, humane and resilient companies. In addition to being a Certified EOS Implementer®, Mark has helped successfully build, lead and invest in dozens of organizations. Follow him here or learn more at