It Better Be Real

This is different from most of what I’ve been writing, but I’m giving it a shot. It’s probably the first time I’m working through something that got me mad via this blog. I hope the point isn’t lost in the details. -AH


When you develop a relationship, it (2)

I spent some time looking at cars recently, and though I didn’t end up with a new vehicle, I came away with this insight: Using a relationship to get something what you want is crap.

That’s a little more direct than I usually am, but I was a little upset by the whole thing. There might have been an even more direct summation of my feelings somewhere along the way that’s not getting published.


At one dealership in particular, I worked with a salesman who was determined to go the relational route for this sell. He did everything he could to fast track our little relationship.  Even before we really got started, he was taking care of me. “Do you need anything? What can I get you before we head out to the lot?”

With my ice cold water in hand, we make our way to the vehicle. He asks if I have a family and about my kids before telling me about himself, and he asks about what I’m driving right now. As we arrive to the vehicle, he starts by talking about the safety features and how they will protect my kids in the back seat in the event of an accident. After hearing more about the car, he gets the info he needs so that I can take it for a test drive. He hops in the car and we’re off, but not before he starts to ask what sort of music I like so he can play it.

He finds something he thinks matches what I said (which is forgivable enough), and somehow we get to talking about how we bought our van at CarMax. “So, how was that?” he asks with more than a hint of judgement. After explaining that it was fine for us, he chimes in, “But, it’s just so impersonal there, right? You’re just in, out, and that’s it.”


Feeling a little judged for my previous car buying experience (which was just what we wanted), I decide to shut my mouth for a minute (which is an introvert trick–car salesmen don’t know about this I think) and let him direct the conversation. He asks what my wife does for a living. Here’s where things get complicated because I choose to answer his question the way I would if a friend were to ask and proceed to tell him about the work that the organization my wife works for does to make the world a better place (in one sentence–they are working to end child slavery on Lake Volta in Ghana by helping villages learn to fish better using aquaculture in exchange for the freedom of the child slaves and reintegration into their families).

He started to get really uneasy at this point, and I wonder if it’s because he just didn’t know where to go next.

You see, just like anyone else who has done this before, I know that there are really four things he needs to know: Info on my desired monthly payments, credit, down payment plans, and trade in (if any).

And he’s chosen the (allegedly) relational route to try to get this. Except the thing is, the people I have relationships with don’t act like this. As it turns out, I left out a few things from my description above.

Now I love to be right (and I was/am pretty frustrated by this not car buying experience), so I’ve tried to be objective about this. This is more like how my “conversation” developed:

So, you have kids? And they’re young? *Be sure to sell him on the car’s safety.*

Your wife works, too? > Where do you need your payments to be?

Do you like the truck you drive now? It’s a great vehicle. > Is it paid off?

On the one hand, our interactions looked like a relationship; but on the other, he was trying to use a relationship as a way to get close to me quickly so that he could get the info he needed to make the sale.

But that’s his job. Maybe I’m foolish for thinking anything else might happen on a trip to a car dealership.


The whole thing has started me thinking about relationships in schools. Some of the students I’ve worked with know the drill and see it coming better than I saw the questions from the salesman. They know what to expect when an educator is trying to connect with them, and they know that that’s likely going to look like a relationship. It’s up to us to make sure we’re doing things the right way in our relationships with students.

Let me make this clear: I think authentic relationships are the key to any community’s health (school or otherwise), and I’m in no way advocating abandoning this sort of approach. What I do believe is that if we’re using relationships to accomplish other goals, we’re wrong.

The way we model relationships with all of our students has to be authentic to what we believe relationships should be.

Relationships matter because people matter (and not because they have a particular fringe benefit that helps us accomplish some other goal).

If we’ve ever used relationships to get a student to behave, or to get a piece of information, or to do anything other than value another person (regardless of age, race, creed, orientation, or any other way you can categorize a person), we’ve missed it.

Starting the new year, let’s get this right.

Get to know the folks on your campus because they’re people and because that makes it worth it. That makes it real.

Image created by Matt Miller (@jmattmiller)