The Complexities of Relationship Dynamics


The aim of this special session is to increase understanding of relationship dynamics in business markets. Relationship dynamics may include the inherent dynamic nature of relationships and networks or specific dynamic states, the start of relationships, their major turning points (e.g. after critical events), the work involved in maintaining relationship stability, and the ending of relationships. Dynamics involve different actor levels (e.g. individuals, teams, companies, network actors etc.), different actions (intentional or not) taking place, and how different outcomes influence the actors. Hence, the special session aims at viewing relationship dynamics as a complex phenomenon and wishes to elaborate on the following topics:

  1. Relationship initiation

    The following questions can be discussed; what is needed for a relationship to exist?, can you buy a relationship?, in what ways can relationships be initiated, when is the time to build new relationships?, can you choose or are you chosen?, etc. Research can approach the issue for example as a practice; studying the actions that start a relationship, their contextuality and the actors that are allowed to take the action on behalf of a company or as a process; what actions shape the structure or the entity we call a relationship?

  2. Flux periods in relationships, turbulence in connected relationships, and relationship restoration

    Studying the dynamics during the relationship’s life is meaningful if we view relationships as processes instead of things. Relationships can undergo very radical changes during their lifetime, but also incremental changes may result in considerable changes in the relationship and influence not only the actors and the dyad, but also the connected relationships. Studies can also look at recovery as a management issue; notion of a relationship almost dying, but being brought back to life; issue of conflict resolution and/or service recovery and its effect on the relationship, factors that attenuate relationship ending (exit barriers), etc. The research questions include e.g. how relationship recovery can be conceptualized?, what kind of process it is?, can any relationship ending be turned into recovery?, what enhances and inhibits recovery?, can a recovered relationship be stronger than before, how to know what relationships to end and what to recover?.

  3. Relationship ending

    The following questions can be asked: how to conceptualize relationship ending?, what kind of process it is?, what influences the process?, how can the process be managed or guided?, and how the process influences the involved actors (both individual and companies)? Research can focus on reasons or triggers for ending, ending processes, ending strategies, relationship endings of various types of relationships (suppliers, sponsors, franchising, episodic, project-based, between non-business and business actors, etc.), ending of triads or small nets, network effects of relationship ending, etc. What capabilities are needed to manage a beautiful exit?

  4. Learning and emotions in relationship dynamics

    Studies may focus on manager’s coping strategies, coping with loss or traumatic events (and the effect this has on the relationship and on the organizational interface e.g. employer-boundary spanner relationship), non-rationale reasons for ending and the role of emotions in the endings processes. We may ask what the role of individual is; can individuals be the reasons for initiation, recovery and/or re-activation, and ending? Research can also focus on the explanatory role of relational level learning in developing an understanding of relationship dynamics. Drawing on insights from contemporary organizational learning literature allows viewing the dyad as a learning entity and examining both adaptive and transformative learning. The latter is informed in particular by viewing the dyad as a complex co-evolving system.

  5. Methodological developments in studying relationship dynamics

    Studies may advance the ways of studying business relationship dynamics. Theory development with abductive strategy has started to receive research attention. However, within research in marketing, there is still lot to learn from social studies where abduction has been developed and advanced. More knowledge is also needed on processual studies that incorporate the time dimension into the research design (see e.g. Halinen et al., 2012). The three ways of doing processual research are historical, follow-up, and future studies, but the two latter options are rarely applied and hence, researchers need more encouragement to use them.


Halinen, Aino; Christopher J. Medlin; Jan-Åke Törnroos (2012) Time and process in business network research, Industrial Marketing Management, 41:2, 215–223.