FIRO Theory

FIRO theory (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) helps people become aware of their own and others’ behavior and beliefs. This umbrella theory integrates the best aspects of many human development and behavior theories in a thorough yet simple way. It examines how people include others or are included, how they and others use influence or control, and helps them notice how open or expressive they are or want to be about inner feelings and thoughts.

The FIRO theory explains how people relate to each other in a simple, yet profound manner that is easily applied to every aspect of life and work.This accessibility helps leaders make effective decisions and act wisely. Part of Will Schutz’ genius lay in his ability to create psychometric instruments that increase awareness while stimulating optimism and positive beliefs about change. The three most widely used instruments are: Element B (Behavior), Element F (Feelings/Beliefs), and Element S (Self-concept).

The FIRO theory forms the basis for Dr. Schutz’ flagship course called The Human Element®. Many of Rewire Leadership’s consultants are Licensed Human Element Practitioners (LHEP™). The Human Element® seminar is facilitated worldwide and is used extensively by Rewire Leadership. Many of Rewire Leadership’s courses are Powered by the Human Element™.

Modern Application

A friend, colleague, and mentor for 23 years, Will Schutz, Ph.D., developer of FIRO theory, wrote in February 2002 before his death, “Judith's understanding and application of the FIRO theory has gained her international respect. There is no one whom I trust more to take the theory, my life's work, expand upon it and innovate from it.”

After working with the FIRO theory family of instruments for more than 25 years, Judith developed FIRO Theory Profiling, a powerful assessment and development tool that uses the three instruments described above: Elements B, F, and S. Maxi Tropé, principal of Tropé Consulting, AB, described FIRO Theory Profiling as “the first real innovation in the use of the FIRO instruments since their inception.” He goes on to say that “what makes it stand apart is its ability to help people transform from aware incompetence to unaware competence.” Participants who create a FIRO Theory Profile gain in-depth self-understanding, learn more about how they function under stress, and get on the path to develop more productive response patterns. FIRO Theory Profiling is done with individual coaching clients, leadership teams who are interested in developing higher performance, and attendees of the Authentic Leadership 1: Become Your Authentic Self course. A FIRO Theory Profile benefits anyone interested in rewiring their leader within, as it primes the brain for change.


In 1958, Dr. Will Schutz published, FIRO: A Three-Dimensional Theory of Interpersonal Behavior in which he presented his theory of interpersonal behavior. FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) is based on a dynamic psychology of growth and development. He postulated that all behavior is derived from three dimensions: inclusion, control, and affection. Revised throughout his lifetime, Dr. Schutz continued to update the FIRO theory as his understanding grew. This led him to revise the dimensions and change 'affection' to 'openness' as well as to create additional assessment tools. Dr. Schutz also developed FIRO-B®, a widely used instrument to measure and predict the characteristic orientation of an individual in each dimension. Used first as a theory to understand group behavior of two or more people, Dr. Schutz hypothesized that groups go through each dimension developmentally. Though all dimensions are functioning at all times, the issues of one dimension predominate within the group. As the issues in each dimension are resolved to the satisfaction of most of the members in the group, new issues arise that are characteristic of the subsequent dimension. This process continues throughout the life of the group.

Looking into individuals, Dr. Schutz determined that underlying the behaviors associated with the inclusion, control, and openness dimensions are beliefs which he called feelings: significance, competence, and likeability. However, more primary than these are the corresponding aspects of the self-concept: in terms of behavior of the self toward the self; aliveness, self-determination, and self-awareness. Regarding what one believes about oneself, Dr. Schutz also called feelings; self-significance, self-competence, and self-likeability though these, too, are beliefs about the self.

Dr. Schutz postulated further that all defensive behavior stems from negative self-concept issues. For instance, if individuals have inner conflicts about significance, they might become defensive when not included in a meeting or ignored socially. If the inner conflicts revolve around competence, those individuals might get reactive if they were challenged, had too little supervision, or were micro-managed. Inner conflicts regarding ones' likeability might catalyze defensive reactions when personal issues relating to sharing were addressed.

Because of its profound simplicity and ease of use, practitioners around the world have found a wide variety of applications: organizational and leadership development, team building, customer relations, culture change, meeting management, change management, communication, psychotherapy, and education. Applications continue to be developed as the FIRO theory becomes better known.

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