In the context of intergroup work, being relational plays out on at least two distinct yet connected levels.

On one hand, being relational refers to the actions that dialogue and program participants take to affirm their dynamic engagement with the other people in the room. This includes being an intentional listener who absorbs what other people are sharing rather than simply listening in order to prepare one’s own response. Maintaining good eye contact and maintaining a presence that is open and welcoming, as well as asking clarification questions when appropriate, also fits within this category of being relational.

The Be Present Empowerment Model® described by Annie Tobias and Arianna Robinson of Be Present, Inc. embraces this intentionality.  The model focuses on three basic steps, 1) Know yourself outside the distress of oppression; 2) Listen to others in a conscious and present state; and 3) Build effective relationships and sustain true alliances.  They illustrated how being relational is experienced within this model:

…the idea is for the facilitators and trainers to hold and support the individuals in emerging their voices within that space.  Concretely, what that looks like:  I may be next to someone – maybe even having some physical contact with them – be very much engaged and pay attention to them as they speak.  Look at their body signs.  There’s a lot of space given to wait for that person to really step into their truth.  Patience is a very active process.

Luz Zambrano and Trina Jackson of the Network of Immigrants and African Americans in Solidarity (NIAAS) also emphasized the need for building intentional relationships, as NIAAS regards this process as a cornerstone for movement building.  Jackson reflects on how NIAAS constructs a movement based on the foundation of being relational:

We’re very, very intentional, which I feel is very, very critical for the success of any project where you’re asking people to look deeper in themselves to get to know each other and build a movement. … The use of campaigns and protests is macro.  We’re not doing either of those things.  We’re sitting in a room together in a circle and that’s how we’re building a movement.  We’re very intentional about holding on to a set of values that facilitates that process.

From a more organizational standpoint, being relational often refers to the art of doing one-on-one meetings as part of an organization’s outreach and relationship-building initiatives, with the goal of mobilizing participants toward greater participation or a concrete action.

One publicly available curriculum, Crossing Borders, suggests the use of one-on-one (relational) meetings as part of a five-step process of moving from dialogue to action. As described in Crossing Borders, relational meetings are face-to-face conversations between two people that are designed to explore the possibility of building a relationship between a leader and an organization. The hope is that the prospective leader will want to join the collective at the end of the conversation. While these chats are recruitment and teaching tools, they are not simply a chance to “sell” the organization; instead, they are designed to assess and reach a person’s core interests and encourage them to act on their own self-interest.

Both forms of being relational require intentionality and practice. Project participants repeatedly emphasized their importance in launching and sustaining successful intergroup relations initiatives.

Helpful materials

Principles and Practices of Relationship-centered Meetings (.pdf)– a document that overviews key principles and suggests methods to use in relational meetings

Tips for Conducting One-on-One Relational Meetings (.doc) – a short tip sheet from the  Regional Center for Healthy Communities

Image: David Niblack,