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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Clark

A Beginner's Guide to Authentic Relating

Among the Relational Arts, the most popular and widely practiced is probably Authentic Relating. It’s a system that trains you to become, as the name suggests, more authentic. It helps you foster genuine connections and form deeper relationships. The best part is the flexibility of its principles — they work with family, friends, lovers, coworkers, and people you run into in your day-to-day life.

Authentic Relating forms around five core practices radiating from the intention to show up as you really are and take the time to understand others. Below, you’ll get all the information you need to have a basic understanding of Authentic Relating, as well as links to explore the ideas you find more deeply.

beginner's guide to authentic relating

What Is Authentic Relating?

Authentic Relating (AR) is a practice rooted in open and honest communication that aims to create authentic connections between individuals. It emphasizes being present, vulnerable, and empathetic in interactions, which helps break down barriers and cultivate deeper understanding. This practice encourages us to move beyond surface-level conversations and engage in meaningful dialogues that lead to genuine relationships.

For the most part, AR is practiced through events where people gather to play games that help to isolate aspects of relating. This gives participants a chance to reflect on specific elements of their experience — but more on this below!

What Are Authentic Relating Games?

AR games are the bread and butter of the practice because they allow groups to practice the exact kinds of moments where the five principles of AR can be used and exercised.

In fact, physical exercise is a really good metaphor. When you work out, you pick movements that isolate certain muscle groups — like how curls hit your biceps. This gives you a chance to develop your strengths in certain areas. You can also do exercises that engage much larger muscle groups — like how squats hit everything from your core down through your legs.

AR games give you a way to dial into what you want to work on. For example, if you want to target extremely specific skills, try these games:

  • Watermelon

  • Handshake

  • Withholds

If you are looking for AR games that are a little more general, consider:

  • Noticing Game

  • Mudra Theater

  • Circling (we have an entire section on this as a practice)

The most general AR activity is probably Circling, but that discipline is so important and broad that we’ve dedicated an entire section to it.

What Is the History of Authentic Relating?

AR began in the 1990s in and around San Francisco. Nonviolent Communication (NVC), the practice of Circling, and the phenomenon of Transpersonal Psychology were all becoming popular with the same kinds of people. Those influences began to merge and meld into the single practice of AR.

While the culture of practices like NVC is built around training and mediation, the culture around AR has become much more focused on events that take place within a community of practitioners. There are certainly opportunities to go to AR training, but the AR games night is by far the more popular and common way people engage with it.

The Five Principles of AR

The following five principles are not exhaustive of all AR thinking, but it is foundational to it. To expand on each (and there is plenty to expand on), follow the links in each section to get a more thorough breakdown.

1. Welcome Everything

Embrace the moments as they come, allowing them to be whatever they are. When emotions, thoughts, and experiences bubble up out of that mysterious combination of ourselves and the other, all you need to do is witness them. This principle is first because, from it, everything flows.

When we release ourselves from the responsibility of judging everything as it happens, we find ourselves able to see others for who they are. This opens up a space where working to form a meaningful connection is possible.

2. Assume Nothing

It’s nearly impossible not to assume things. But this principle reminds us that we can note them as assumptions, and we can let these go. It’s amazing what this opens you up to. You might find that you never really knew people you’ve been with your whole life, and you’ll often be surprised by what you see when you set assumptions aside.

The key to this principle is getting practice noting when something is a story you are making up. One of the easiest ways to do this is to incorporate the sentence stem, “I have a story…” into your everyday life.

3. Reveal Your Experience

Relating is a two-way street, and so you have to reveal your experience to others to be in relation. It isn’t always easy — as you have to calibrate vulnerability. But as you learn to navigate this sometimes tricky territory, you give yourself the precious gift of being seen for who you really are.

A great downstream effect of revealing your experience is modeling the behavior for others. They see you do it, and they see that it isn’t so scary after all.

4. Own Your Experience

Owning how you feel and what you perceive takes the blame off of others, and it sets responsibility back on your shoulders. This doesn’t mean ignoring the effects someone else’s actions have on you. Instead, it emphasizes that you have control over two things: how you see the world and how you choose to act.

When you do this, you honor your experience while, at the same time, you keep yourself open to the perspectives of others — which has that two-way chemistry that is the heart of relation.

5. Honor Self and Others

Honoring yourself and others opens the door to win-win solutions and healthy collective thinking. To honor yourself is to keep your boundaries intact. To honor others is to actively listen, empathize, and connect to others’ experiences.

This principle helps to prevent us from entering into unhealthy or unsafe states in order to maintain or increase the feeling of connection — a common pattern for many of us.

Experiencing Authentic Relating

Are you interested in learning more about AR? We have a lot of resources to help you! Our AR section gives you games and other material to check out.

But even more importantly — you should experience an AR games night near you! Looking these up on social media (especially MeetUp) should send you in the right direction.

Authentic Relating Links

If you want to become officially trained in AR or find more resources, consider these groups:

Authentic Relating FAQ

Does AR work?

Most people who regularly attend AR groups will tell you that not only do these principles work but practicing them can be a lot of fun.

AR can do a variety of things, improving your ability to do things like:

  • communicate your emotions

  • get your social needs met

  • set boundaries

  • connect to people

  • understand where others are coming from

This is only a short list of benefits. But as you can see, these can be wildly transformational.

Why are AR games so popular?

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