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Embrace the Relationship Design Mindsets

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain how Relationship Design is important across roles.
  • Describe how the four mindsets of Relationship Design work together.
  • Adopt behaviors associated with each mindset.

Relationship Design for Any Role

No matter where you sit in an organization, strong relationships add value to your work. Here are some roles that show how relationships can be prioritized across different functions. 

Marketers prioritize engagement over impressions for more effective communication and campaigns. 

Salespeople focus on discovering customer needs through conversation and design-led research—instead of pushing products or solutions—to earn trust from customers and gain their loyalty over time.

Designers and engineers reframe work in terms of building relationships, instead of features and functions, to create more business and social value. 

If we hold onto mindsets that help us connect as human beings, we strengthen relationships across all different stakeholders.

Let’s dig into the four mindsets.

Mindsets of Relationship Design

Relationship Design helps us look past the experience of individual customers—for example, how a product fulfills a customer's needs—so we can consider the connections between people. It also requires us to make decisions that encourage ongoing engagement with our organization. It holds us responsible for the intended and unintended ripple effects of those decisions across communities.

These are not small tasks. But they become easier when we embrace the four mindsets of Relationship Design: compassion, courage, intention, and reciprocity.

  • Compassion mindset—to lead with strengthening connection
  • Courage mindset—to push ourselves to be vulnerable
  • Intention mindset—to engage with clear purpose
  • Reciprocity mindset—to exchange value in service of longevity

These four mindsets build on each other. And all can be put to work in any role, function, or industry context. 

When we’re compassionate and truly feel for other people, it gives us courage to act on our values. When we’re courageous, and stand up for our values, we’re more intentional about the impact of our decisions. When we’re intentional about adding meaningful value to people’s lives, we share power and value, nurturing relationships based on reciprocity.

See how all the mindsets hang together, and make each other stronger?

By using the mindsets of Relationship Design, we:

  • Open ourselves to value exchange and better connections across our ecosystem.
  • Activate the potential of relationships to make our business stronger.
  • Strive for positive impact on people and the planet.

Putting Relationship Design Mindsets to Work

Let’s go over how to adopt each of these mindsets in the work that we do.


We create a culture of compassion when we reward curiosity and attention to the experiences of others. When we bring compassion to our work, we can build products and experiences that resonate more deeply with customers, which leads to market value. We build teams of people who learn from differences, take care of each other, and feel safe to take creative risks. 

To practice compassion:

  • Acknowledge the humanity of colleagues and customers, and approach collaboration with a supportive attitude.
  • Bring more diverse voices to the table and actively listen.
  • Become aware of unconscious biases and how they might affect your interactions with others.


As Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff always says, “The business of business is to improve the state of the world.” To do that, everyone inside organizations has to feel that responsibility. It takes courage to do what’s right, and even more courage to be honest when we make mistakes. But it’s only when we’re courageous enough to be vulnerable, stand up for our values, and make it right when we mess up that we can improve the relationship between business and the world.

To practice courage:

  • Speak up when decisions don’t align with your values, or the values of your organization.
  • Be transparent when you make a mistake or cause harm to others, and then take action to make it right.
  • Be open and vulnerable, even when you want to stay in your comfort zone.


Relationships, in business and life, grow best when we do everything we can to make sure someone’s getting what they need. Designing with relationships as the ultimate goal helps us focus on the next human, not the next dollar. It lets us shift from transactions to trust. 

To practice intention:

  • Begin any new project with relationship goals, no matter how minor the influence might seem.
  • Be proactive about containing risk, using frameworks and tools to get ahead of unintended consequences.
  • Create products and features that make users aware of their impact and when it might harm people.


A relationship is a two-way street. We have to work with our customers, coworkers, and communities to shape experiences and drive impact that adds lasting value to people’s lives. When we talk with and listen to our customers, the insights they share can inspire products that actually make their lives better, which in turn make our business stronger. And it’s not one and done! We have to keep the conversation going, because people’s needs change. If we don’t continue to meet those needs, we’ll lose relevance.

To practice reciprocity:

  • Actively seek cross-organizational collaboration.
  • Understand that the best solutions come from co-creation, and work to partner with the people you are serving.
  • Advocate for gathering and incorporating user and customer feedback.

Working from a place of compassion, intention, courage, and reciprocity keeps us human. We can connect authentically with people, and create things that make their lives better. These mindsets are the basis of Relationship Design. But they’re also the basis of good relationships in general. We can use them, in and out of work, to make this world a better place to be. 


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