Difference Between Horizontal and Vertical Relationships (with Table)

The interaction between any two related or seemingly non-related objects, substances, or living things in the world can be studied and observed. If this observation leads to meaningful results, we say that the two subjects are in a relationship. 

Now, the kind of relationship that determines their state of co-dependency can be of many types. Often, it can be of different types too. One of the most common classifications of these relationships is Horizontal and Vertical relationships. It is important to note that these relationships are very broad and general in nature and do not come down to any specialization. 

We all know that when things are in the horizontal plane, it means that they are on the same level. Hence, when we talk about things to be in a horizontal relationship, we mean to say that the entities involved in this relationship are of the same status, and share equal respect.

Again, when talking about things in a vertical plane, it means that some things lie higher than other things, while some lie lower.

The difference between Horizontal and Vertical Relationships is that in Horizontal Relationships, the related entities lie at the same level of respect, power, and authority. While, in a Vertical Relationship, some related entities have more power, authority, and say over other related entities.

Comparison Table between Horizontal and Vertical Relationships

Parameters of ComparisionHorizontal RelationshipsVertical Relationships
DefinitionThe relationship where all entities have an equal stand.The relationship where some entities have greater authority and some have less.
HighlightsBased on cooperation.Based on understanding.
BusinessCoworkers have a horizontal relationship.The boss and the coworkers have a vertical relationship.
GovernmentDemocratic governments and people have Horizontal Relationships.Dictatorships have a vertical relationship with the people.
Behavior Often leads to rivalries, competitions.Leads to oppression.

What are Horizontal Relationships?

Horizontal relationships are those where the related entities have a clearly established connection between them, have a relationship such, where they are all on the same level of authority, and power. To understand it, we just need to look into the meaning of the words. The word horizontal means that the plane where, with respect to the observer, all the objects appear to be on the same level. This means that none of the objects have more value or more authority over the other. 

Similarly, when two or more entities are in a horizontal relationship, they are operating or existing from the same level, and no specific entity has more say over the other. Usually, horizontal relationships take place where the entities have a lot of common characteristics. For example, take the case of a husband and a wife. They are equally bound together in a matrimonial bond. Their relationship is that of equality and hence is a horizontal relationship. 

However, it is important to note that this is not always the case, and there are many horizontal relationships that exist where the entities do not have a lot in common. In the case of democratic governments, the people and the government are equal in the eyes of law, and thus in a horizontal relationship.

It is safe to say, that in many cases the establishment of the kind of relationship is not absolute, and hence often depends on the eyes of the observer. It might also depend on the situation too. For example, for a principal, both the teacher and the students should be treated the same way when there is a dispute in the school. However, in a classroom, a teacher has more authority over the students, which is not a horizontal relationship.

Vertical and Horizontal Relationships in Managing Mintzberg 2009a p 93

What are Vertical Relationships?

Vertical relationships are those where the entities involved have a clearly established connection between them and this relationship is as such, some entities have more power or more authority over a particular entity, while some have less power or authority over that same entity. This can be easily understood by understanding the concept of a vertical plane.

In a vertical plane, if we arrange a number of points, then the observer, who is standing on a plane that is perpendicular relative to this plane, will see that some points are at a higher position than the other points. This is what constitutes a vertical relationship.

An important thing to note that is, vertical relationships need to have a lot of understanding in them. It also requires kindness and empathy. This is because when a certain person is in a position of power, it is very easy for that person to misuse or exploit this power and thus bring about the anger and frustration of the people who are below that person. Such situations need to be handled delicately.

Often vertical relationships are a result of unchecked exploitation of power, and hence they can cause the oppression of millions of people. The most common example of such a scenario is the relationship a dictator has with the people of his/her country.

Thus, vertical relationships are delicate and need to be handled with a lot of care.

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Main Differences Between Horizontal and Vertical Relationships

  1. The main difference between horizontal and vertical relationships is that in a horizontal relationship, the entities are in the same position of authority, while in a vertical relationship, someone has more authority, while another has less.
  2. Horizontal relationships flourish well under proper cooperation, while vertical ones flourish well under good understanding.
  3. In the business area, the coworkers share a horizontal relationship, while the boss has a vertical relationship with the coworkers.
  4. A democratic government has a horizontal relationship with its people, while a dictatorship has a vertical relationship with the people.
  5. The biggest problem arising out of horizontal relationships is rivalry, while oppression is a common problem in vertical relationships.

Conclusion

Co-existing is a fundamental part of human nature and understanding what kind of way are two or more entities related help us in understanding how to manage things, how things work, and how to ultimately function alongside it.

Horizontal and vertical relationships are just two very broad ways to classify these, and there are many more ways to do so. However, even this generalization is a very useful tool.

References

  1. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/01437739710182278/full/html
  2. https://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/39200