Building relationships – key to helping move people out of poverty

Understanding the stages of building relationships helps people of all classes unite.

Much of the literature on how to help people move out of poverty suggests the need to establish building strong relationships. In order to build a relationship, we need to understand the process of how a relationship is developed or made. There are a couple of theories, one called the Identification Theory and another called Relationship Theory that explains the process.

Kenneth Burke’s (1990) Identification Theory describes that relationship building needs to be based on the principle of finding common ground, something or someone to identify with. Burke states there are three distinct levels of relationship building: Sharing information regarding specific subject matter or resources; sharing personal stories, experiences, feelings and preferences, and; sharing deep personal information, gut-level values and beliefs.

Mark Knapp’s (1984) Relationship Theory describes a process of relationship development that consists of five stages:

Stage 1: The Initiation Stage – this stage refers to a short, first encounter.

Stage 2: The Experimenting Stage – people start asking questions of each other in order to gain information about one another and what is possible.

Stage 3: The Intensifying Stage – self-disclosure becomes more common and commonalities emerge. The relationship is less formal and statements are made about the level of commitment each has in the relationship and to follow through.

Stage 4: Integrating Stage – individuals who make it to this stage start to work together to accomplish goals and outcomes.

Stage 5: Bonding – during this stage, people begin to tell others about the relationship.

Building a strong relationship is no easy task, especially when that relationship involves someone who is living in poverty. There are some pointers to keep in mind that will help the process run smoother when working with people living in poverty. Michigan State University Extension reminds that the person living in poverty is concerned with meeting their basic needs, being treated with respect and feeling accepted. People often decide there are too many problems or make personal judgments in regards to people living in poverty. People living in poverty may feel that outside relationships are a waste of time due to feeling they don’t belong and people don’t understand them.

Next time you have a conversation with someone, no matter their economic status, remember – we are all human. Be relaxed as possible and suspend judgments and stereotypes. Be helpful and pleasant and, if nothing else, show concern, respect and smile!

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