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Authors Carole Robin, Ph.D. and David Bradford, Ph.D. bring meaningful tips and strategies for managing relationships and expectations in all aspects of life.

Students say Stanford’s most popular course, Interpersonal Dynamics, is worth the tuition in and of itself.

For a combined 45 years, Professors Carole Robin, Ph.D. and David Bradford, Ph.D. taught how to break through superficial interactions, get real and create meaningful connections with people in every aspect of life.

Now Robin and Bradford are letting the masses audit their class with their new book, CONNECT: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, & Colleagues (Penguin Random House’s Currency; February 2021).

Filled with real-life situations, the book is a framework that covers all the intricacies of relating to someone, from expectations to conflict. There are simple things we all can do for any connection we want to strengthen and anytime you move from casual contact to something that’s more meaningful, you enrich your life, such as:

Take Disclosure Risks

When you don’t know where to start, begin with sharing something about yourself. This builds trust. It’s doesn’t have to be major. A small but meaningful fact, especially if it includes a feeling, will suffice, e.g.:

  • You could say, I’m moving to San Francisco.
  • Or you could offer a little more and say, I’m moving to San Francisco, and I’m excited but really anxious. I have had many moments of wondering if this is the right decision.

The latter feels riskier. But as your comfort to share gets bigger, the other person is likely to reciprocate.

Ask Encouraging Questions

After disclosing, ask the person something about them. But remember: Not all questions are equal. Robin and Bradford encourage open-ended questions rather than ones that elicit a yes or no response. This helps to generate new options and perspectives. (They also advise avoiding ‘why’ questions, as those cause people to feel they need to justify themselves.)

Remember You Only Know Your Reality

No matter how well you think you know a person, or how perceptive you may be, you still don’t know what’s going on with someone else. The biggest mistake people do is think they know what is going on in the other person’s reality. Understanding this and remaining naïve when it comes to building connection will encourage more genuine curiosity.

Stay on Your Side of the “Net”

In any interaction between two people, there are three realities: Reality one is what’s going on inside of you Your intent and motives). Reality two is both of your behaviors (the only reality known to both people.) Reality three is how our behaviors impact someone else. Too often we blur the lines between assumption and reality, and we assume we know what the other person is thinking of feeling. (This particularly happens during times of disagreement.) Robin calls this “jumping the net.” If you start to impute motives, label me, or say that you know what’s going on for me, then you’re playing in my court. Instead, stay on your side of the net and stick to facts. Give behaviorally specific feedback. And offer clear examples of how the person’s actions impacted you (avoiding “you” statements), e.g.:

  • Rather than saying: You never hear me… (outside your reality and on their side of the net)
  • Try saying: When I talk to you when you enter the door and you don’t respond, I don’t feel heard. And when I don’t feel heard, it makes me less open to being there for you in the ways I want to be…

The latter option invites a problem-solving conversation rather than making the person feel defensive.

Honor Emotions

Robin believes we’ve been socialized to leave emotions out of tough conversations, both at work and in our personal lives. We’ve stigmatized feelings. The truth is, feelings give value and meaning to things, she says, which is why it’s important to normalize them and bring them back into our everyday communication with each other.

Be You

Don’t put on an act. Really. Be. You. This will generate more openness and cause others to do the same. Robin says “It was so freeing to discover that if I allowed myself to be more known, and I didn’t spin my image, people actually liked me more. They were more drawn to me and I was so much more influential.”

Know that You Have Agency—and Deeper Connections Are Possible

It may seem daunting, or even impossible. But deep, fulfilling connections are possible—even with a wider range of people than we may expect. We’re all works in progress. Some people need to not take so much oxygen out of the air. Some people need to make more space for others. Some need to learn how to step up and take more space so they don’t have to wait for a break in conversation. You can decide what you most need in order to be more effective and to connect better.

If you’re curious to learn how you can improve, Robin and Bradford offer a free assessment on their site here.


David is the Eugene O’Kelly II Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Leadership at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he helped develop Interpersonal Dynamics (“Touchy Feely”) as well as much of the School’s leadership curriculum. He is the author of numerous books, including Managing for Excellence, Influence Without Authority, and Power Up. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife of more than fifty years.

Carole was the Dorothy J. King Lecturer in Leadership and Director of the Arbuckle Leadership Fellows Program at Stanford Graduate School of Business before co-founding Leaders in Tech, which brings the principles and process of “Touchy Feely” to executives in Silicon Valley. Prior to coming to Stanford, she had careers in sales and marketing management and was a partner in two consulting firms. She lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband of 35 years.


“It’s never been clearer that meaningful relationships are critical to a fulfilling and healthy life. Connect shows us that by learning to connect with ourselves we can more easily build thriving relationships.”—Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global

Connect offers a compelling and highly accessible road map for building relationships that lead to professional success and personal fulfillment. I highly recommend this book.”—Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and co-author of Blitzscaling and The Alliance

“In Connect, my colleagues Carole Robin and David Bradford have written a practical and easy-to-read book. They have succeeded in bringing to life a legendary course at the Stanford Business School.”—Joel Peterson, former chairman of JetBlue Airways

“Carole Robin and David Bradford have a unique and invaluable feel for the human psyche and an instinct, tuned over thousands of examples, for how to get the most out of our relationships with others, and ultimately ourselves. This book is a treasure chest of their wisdom, shared with us all.”—Scott Kriens, chairman of Juniper Networks and co-creator of 1440 Multiversity

“What’s different about this book? You’ll see how many dilemmas at work that you thought were about priorities or strategy or ‘right and wrong’ were really about relationships all along. The future of work will reward those who can see past numbers and bullet points into the map of relationships. Carole Robin and David Bradford sketch that map for you.”—Roy Bahat, venture capitalist at Bloomberg Beta

“There’s no better time to learn how to create more meaningful interactions and relationships, and Connect helps us do just that. The more people who read this, the stronger our families, organizations, communities, and institutions will be.”—Alexa von Tobel, managing partner of Inspired Capital and New York Times bestselling author of Financially Fearless

“Carole and David’s classes have been an invaluable resource—what a gift to have their insights and lessons in a book. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to feel happier and more fulfilled, and to anyone who wants a better, smarter future for our world.”—Dr. Jennifer Aaker, co-author of Humor, Seriously and The Dragonfly Effect

“Learning to connect across differences and develop relationships in which we can actually see and hear others for who they are is becoming an imperative for nations and individuals alike. Connect is a treasure!”—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America

“I am thrilled that the immensely valuable lessons in Connect are now available to millions of people. I encourage anyone who cares about developing stronger and more meaningful relationships anywhere in their life to read this book.”—David Rogier, founder and CEO of MasterClass


A transformative guide to building more fulfilling relationships with colleagues, friends, partners, and family, based on the landmark Interpersonal Dynamics (“Touchy-Feely”) course at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business

“Carole Robin and David Bradford are masters at helping people bring IQ and EQ together to satisfy both and be successful.”—Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater and author of Principles: Life and Work

The ability to create strong relationships with others is crucial to living a full life and becoming more effective at work. Yet many of us find ourselves struggling to build solid personal and professional connections or unable to handle challenges that inevitably arise when we grow closer to others. When we find ourselves in an exceptional relationship—the kind of relationship in which we feel fully understood and supported for who we are—it can seem like magic. But the truth is that the process of building and sustaining these relationships can be described, learned, and applied.

David Bradford and Carole Robin taught interpersonal skills to MBA candidates for a combined seventy-five years in their legendary Stanford Graduate School of Business course Interpersonal Dynamics (affectionately known to generations of students as “Touchy-Feely”) and have coached and consulted hundreds of executives for decades. In Connect, they show readers how to take their relationships from shallow to exceptional by cultivating authenticity, vulnerability, and honesty, while being willing to ask for and offer help, share a commitment to growth, and deal productively with conflict.

Filled with relatable scenarios and research-backed insights, Connect is an important resource for anyone hoping to improve existing relationships and build new ones at any stage of life.

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