The Five Floors of a Relationship

Tommy Spaulding is the author of “It’s Not Just Who You Know,” a book that builds on Spaulding’s years of experience in building relationships.  He outlines what he calls the “Five Floors of Relationships,” or phases that relationships go through at various stages.  His aim is to help the reader deepen and build upon relationships to create more effective and fulfilling work.  Here is a summary of the Five Floors.

Floor One is usually transactional in nature.  We encounter dozens of people a week with whom we exchange simple greetings: the barista at Starbucks, the mailman, the clerk who checks us out at the market. We ask “How are you today” without really expecting much of an answer, and others respond with “Fine, thanks” no matter what they’re really feeling or thinking. 

Second Floor relationships offer more opportunity to interact; they may be with people we see at the office or work with sometimes.  They might be neighbors or workers we hire for tasks around the house.  Spaulding identifies these relationships by the depth of our conversation; we usually never get beyond what he calls “NSW:” News, Sports and Weather.  We generally only reveal pleasant parts of our personalities to these casual acquaintances – as a rule, we almost never reveal anything intimate.

Third Floor relationships are where we begin to offer opinions and thoughts to others; we even feel comfortable enough to debate issues if we have different viewpoints.  We also get to know about each other’s families or lives outside the context of our usual encounter (home, church, work, etc.) But almost always at this stage, there is a perceived barrier to real friendship ; some difference in taste, beliefs or choices that we don’t talk about because it might lead us to a discussion that’s too frank.  “I like you, but not enough to invest in a conversation about why you stick with that brute of a boyfriend,” you think to yourself.

In a Fourth Floor relationship, we have broken through that barrier to real friendship.  It’s no longer a question of whether we like each other anymore, and we value the relationship for its own sake.  We’d be friends even if work or another activity didn’t bring us together.  We’ve learned to talk through conflict and trust each other with important thoughts, fears and hopes.

In Fifth Floor relationships, we have more than trust; we have empathy.  We actually know what the other person is thinking or feeling before they tell us.  Spaulding says that when you get to the Fifth Floor (which is relatively rare) you become more than friends; you’re each other’s champions, advisors and partners.

Spaulding asserts that you begin to be effective at relationship building when you understand where you are with another person (what floor you’re on) and can begin to move the relationship to the next level.  Whether it’s a coworker, your boss, or a neighbor, is there a relationship you could start to strengthen and deepen today?

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