October 5, 2020 | 12:26

The PIES Framework — How To Define Any Type Of Relation

The PIES Framework Cover

Relationships are all around us. Some of them are fulfilling, while others are toxic. Some are lasting, while others are momentary.

A relationship is a complex, multidimensional representation of the interaction between people. There are different types of relations, depending on the context: at work, you have professional relations with your colleagues; at home, you have a romantic relationship with your spouse and a parent-child connection with your kids. Then you have friendships that are yet another type of relationship.

All these relations are different and, in a way, unique. However, the characteristics that define them fall into several broad categories. Knowing these categories can help you take a different perspective on some of your relations and understand why they work or why they do not work.

The PIES Of A Relationship

Broadly speaking, there are four aspects a relationship consists of:

  • Physical aspect
  • Intelligence aspect
  • Emotional aspect
  • Spiritual aspect

Let’s discuss each of them in more detail.

Physical Aspect

The physical aspect is all about appearance and physiology. There are two subtypes of this aspect:

  • beauty — representing how good a person looks. It is inherently subjective.
  • body constitution — representing the size, shape, strength, and other bodily aspects. It is a more objective subtype since it is (partially) measurable.

The physical aspect is easily and instantly evaluable (or at least in a very short time) and quantifiable.

Intelligence Aspect

The intelligence aspect is all about one’s knowledge, skills, interests, and the way of thinking of the person. It can also be further split into several subtypes:

  • domain-specific intelligence — how well the person knows a specific domain
  • generic intelligence — how versatile a person is

The intelligence aspect requires a relatively short amount of time to be evaluated (usually, using a test). It is a bit harder to quantify, though, as the volume of information in a domain is by far greater than the volume of information you can test at once.

Emotional Aspect

The emotional aspect is about temperament, emotional intelligence, and how a person makes you feel whenever you are around them. It usually requires some time to evaluate, and there are no precise, quantifiable measurements to it.

Spiritual Aspect

There is no single, widely agreed-upon definition of spirituality. A survey of reviews by McCarroll, each dealing with the topic of spirituality, gave twenty-seven explicit definitions, among which “there was little agreement."1

Therefore, by the Spiritual aspect, I refer here to the world within us. It is not about religion and faith — these are only part of it. It is about our dreams, beliefs, values, and purpose. About what we believe in, and what our meaning and purpose are.

It is inherently unmeasurable and subjective. And it is relative to our own spiritual world. Therefore the same person can be fully compatible with Person A and totally incompatible with Person B.

Now that we have defined the aspects of a relation let’s see how they can describe different relation types.

A Professional Relation

Let’s see how a relation at work is expressed through the PIES aspects. And to slightly narrow down the myriads of jobs out there, for the sake of example, let’s consider a corporate job at the office.

Physical aspect does not matter much. Your co-worker can be short or tall, slim or overweight, of any color, religion, and gender. All these do not affect the team’s performance and atmosphere (if you do not discriminate).

Intellectual aspect is one of the most important in this type of relation, though. You should know your domain well and be able to perform at least everyday tasks and solve problems. Also, the more expert you are in your field, the more people will want to interact with you (unless you’re a douchebag — then no matter how genius you are).

Emotional aspect goes hand in hand with the intellectual one. It is not sufficient to know your job well. For a healthy atmosphere, you need to be open to collaborating with your teammates, overcome and resolve conflicts, control your emotions, deal with stress, etc.

Spiritual aspect does not play a significant role in a professional relationship.

PIES image for a corporate job

Thus, for a healthy professional relationship in the corporate world, at the highest, abstract level, it is essential to have strong Intellectual and Emotional aspects. The Physical and spiritual are not that important, as the specifics of the job do not require them. Therefore, whenever looking for a potential employee, it is crucial to test both these aspects.

And different jobs have different PIES representations. Here’s one of an athlete:

PIES image for an athlete

It is essential to have a specific constitution of the body. Therefore the Physical aspect is of primordial importance, followed by the Emotional element, and then Intelligence and Spiritual being not as significant as the former aspects.

Generally speaking, each type of job has its own PIES chart, and for each candidate, you should test the corresponding elements.

A Friendship Relation

Before going further, try to think of your friends and their corresponding PIES chart. And although this PIES chart is not something you can use to improve things, it can tell you something about yourself.

Physical aspect matters a little in a true friendship relation. Think of the friends you have and how they look.

Intellectual aspect is not the most important, although it has some weight. Since people work in different domains, their expertise might not necessarily intersect to be able to talk on the same topics. But that is not even necessary. With a friend, you can speak on some general subject (hence some weight on the Intellectual aspect), but most importantly, you talk about how it’s going in your life.

Emotional aspect is what makes a person a friend. It’s all those memories, laughs, and challenges that you have shared together that strengthened the friendship bond. As we want to feel good, we tend to surround ourselves with people who make us feel good.

Spiritual aspect is also important, as it represents how alike you are in your views, values, and purpose.

PIES image for a friend

Thus, for genuine friendship, at the highest, abstract level, it is essential to have strong Emotional and Spiritual aspects, followed by Intelligence. Also, that is why it takes time for friendships to form — you don’t connect on an emotional and spiritual level right away. It takes time to get the person to know, to open to you so that you can form strong emotional and spiritual bonds.

Note that similarly to how a professional relation varies between jobs, a friendship PIES chart varies between different people so that yours might be different than mine. It is perfectly fine, and it shows how your values are different than mine.

A Romantic Relation

This one is quite obvious, but let’s go through it.

Physical is essential. It’s how the person looks, their eyes, smile, smell, and all those small things that make a person beautiful to you. But appearance alone is not enough. After all, there are many beautiful people out there, but we fall in love with only some of them. Therefore, there’s something more to it than appearance.

Intellectual aspect is responsible for that pleasure when you discuss with your significant one, about anything. Or when you debate a subject, or simply listening and learning something new. But there are still plenty of pretty and smart people out there, yet we do not love all of them.

Emotional aspect is what gives depth to the relationship. Since emotions are an essential part of our lives, having a partner that contributes to a healthy and stable emotional atmosphere is crucial.

And if the emotional aspect gives depth to a relationship, the Spiritual one takes it to a whole new level. Your partner is your soulmate. They understand and are there for you. They listen but do not judge.

PIES image for a romantic partner

All of the four aspects are important for a romantic relationship to last. And because the Emotional and Spiritual aspects, getting to know the person and falling in love with them is a process that takes time.


So the four aspects that define a relation are Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual. Depending on the relation type and your personality, each of these will have a different weight in terms of how important it is.

But keep in mind that the PIES components are broad categories. Once you have defined each one’s significance, you can go more in-depth and elaborate on each one if you are interested to understand the relationship better. But this is a topic for another article.

If you liked this article, consider subscribing below and following me on twitter (@iuliangulea).

  1. “Assessing plurality in spirituality definitions” by Pam McCarroll, Thomas St. James O’Connor, Elizabeth Meakes, 2005 ↩︎

Subscribe to receive more posts like this

* indicates required