Build better relationships
Relationships - from the ones we have with a parent or spouse to our interactions with a barista at the local coffee shop - play a key role in ensuring our health and happiness.
Even those on grander levels can influence our interactions. For instance, negotiations for a Brexit deal has the potential to impact relations with our European counterparts. Whether it’s positive or negative is yet undecided.
Many of us though focus on the relationships that occur day to day. But are we doing enough to ensure the health of those relationships?
If not, what more can we do to make all of them successful?
Let’s get into what a relationship truly is, and how to make sure all of yours thrive.
What exactly is a relationship?
The standard definition for a relationship, as it relates to people, involves the manner in which we interact with or behave toward each other - a broad description for sure.
Closer inspection, however, reveals relationships are about more than just interactions. They are about needs.
Consider our original examples.
A relationship with a parent is more than their feeding and clothing you when you are young and showing up to your major life events later on.
Your relationship with them is your learning and their teaching.
You sorting through confusing times and them providing comfort and counsel when necessary.
Using their knowledge and insight to form your own opinions about the world.
With a spouse or partner, the dynamics are different, but you still have a set of needs that only a relationship with them can fulfill.
The same can be said for innocuous relationships too. With the barista, you need a service, and they are providing it. Depending on how you both approach the transaction, that brief relationship can either be satisfying or unpleasant.
Regardless of the bond you share with someone, what we are really doing is working together towards the betterment of ourselves and our lives. From the major - a partner or family member - to the mundane - a co-worker or the person who cuts our hair - all of our relationships will impact us in one way or another.
What makes a successful relationship?
When considering what it takes to make a relationship work, there are countless methods and advice on how to click with other people. The answers - and the approach you take - also depend greatly on what type of relationship you want to succeed.
Is it with a partner when the passion has gone cold?
A co-worker you fail to see eye to eye with?
The friend from secondary school with whom you’re trying to reconnect?
Specific relationships follow their own rhythm. There are, though, a few universal traits that help guide you in creating a successful relationship no matter who it's with.
For any relationship to work, you must be committed to it. That may seem fairly obvious, but ask yourself how many times you were distant with another individual (or they were with you). What impact did it make on the interaction? If you're like most, it probably wasn't positive.
If you are not entirely in the moment, then you are equally as likely to receive a chilly response. This is particularly detrimental to intimate relationships, but failing to be emotionally present also creates strains with other interactions.
In the workplace, poor engagement results in non-productive environments.
Distractions during service transactions may result in them being unsatisfying and leaving you irritated, even if nothing was amiss.
Friendships can fray if they sense your presence is out of duty only and there's no real desire to be there.
Of course, limits exist, and we all require time for ourselves, but if you are physically making an effort to be present with people, make sure an emotional commitment is there with you.
You’ve probably heard the popular aphorism “to love someone, you must first love yourself” more than a few times, but is it true?
While self-love certainly helps to enhance your relationships, the more essential quality is self-esteem. Confidence in how you carry yourself, present your thoughts and make your feelings known.
Confidence is what allows us the freedom to be on equal footing with a counterpart, be it in a marriage, with a sibling, or during a business setting. When both parties hold each other in the same regard, it promotes a fair, 50/50 exchange of ideas, and more easily supports several of the other items that we discuss below: trust, honesty, and communication.
Arguably, trust is the most complex attribute in a relationship to explain and define. Further clouding its importance is that it stands as one of the hardest things to gain from another individual, but also one of the easiest to lose.
Ultimately, trust is about faith and believing in what another person will provide to the relationship. Whether it's through what they say or do, you hold the belief they will act in specific ways to reinforce the mutual partnership that exists in the relationship and vice versa.
With trust, just a few layers are necessary to keep the relationship on solid ground. Or the level of trust may need to run very deep, such as it would with a marriage or partnership. The level of trust to make a bond successful is often dependent upon the relationship.
In business, you expect co-workers to bring specific skills and a commitment to the task each day.
With a friend or family member, there is the inherent feeling they have your best interests at heart and are looking out for your well-being.
With an intimate partner, the trust in what each one brings to the table is about support, companionship, and intimacy.
Regardless of the connection you share with an individual, understanding the behaviors they bring with them, as well as the ones they expect from you, will ensure equal levels of trust.
So how is that trust earned?
Honesty, of course. And as complicated as trust may be, the path you travel to achieve honesty is relatively simple.
Best described as the foundation of any positive relationship, the ability to be upfront and straightforward with others goes a long way to making harmonious connections. Those that are deceptive are commonly associated as selfish manipulators who are only out for themselves.
Lying or withholding information from people comes with it a great deal of stress, regret, and shame. Not only does this damage a liar's standing with others, but it leads to a breakdown in the health and well-being of the liar.
Now, we know that the honesty you have with an intimate partner is not the same as that of an acquaintance or business associate. But honesty within the context of the association is paramount to any meaningful, long term relationship.
Perhaps the most apparent part of a successful relationship, it may also be the most misunderstood. Yes, it's important to be open and conversational, but how you communicate is just as critical as what you communicate.
Shouting and yelling does not equate to productive methods of interaction with other individuals. In addition, layering your speech with aggressive tones or using harsh, derogatory language do little to inspire others to want to be around you.
The other aspect of communication comes from not just talking but also listening.
As we stated earlier, great relationships depend on each party possessing equal footing with one another. To maintain this, you need to listen and absorb just as much as you talk and project, if not more.
How to ensure your relationships are successful
With that understanding of the most common attributes in successful relationships, let’s now consider three ways you can strengthen yours.
This is certainly a more difficult task considering the current climate in the world. Too many interactions are about who can shout the loudest versus who a person is and what they have to say.
Instead of approaching people as potential adversaries, seek out what you have in common. Although we are firmly ingrained with our belief systems and approach to life by our mid-20s, our divisions don't have to be the only thing driving the relationship.
Yes, some barriers may remain, but for a relationship to work and prove beneficial, it's easier to build a bridge with someone else than to tear one down alone.
Yes, it's a simple concept, but one that travels very far.
It's simple to live our lives without paying much attention to those around us, which often is perceived as rudeness even if that wasn't the intent. However, it’s just as easy to take a few extra seconds to acknowledge as it is to ignore.
In business, maintain respect for everyone you encounter - from those that empty the waste bins on up to those that sign your cheque. Keep your appointments and return calls, emails or texts. If you can’t make an engagement or must postpone or reschedule a meeting, be apologetic and honest about why.
For more personal relationships, be quick to compliment instead of dismiss. Avoid deceit and rushing through life's events. Instead, practice patience. Understand that friends and family are there for the long haul, so being flaky and rude not only puts a strain on them but you as well.
This can prove tough in the face of life’s many adversities. However, keeping your chin up and seeking ways to overcome obstacles can infuse your relationships with a constructive feedback loop.
Others will want to feed off your positive vibes and will, in turn, provide you will equal amounts of support.
Being positive also means avoiding negative people and adverse situations. It may sound harsh, but remember that relationships are, at their core, about enriching your life and the lives of others. If you find yourself in a commitment that has turned sour and beyond repair, it may be time to move on.
It's certainly understandable. After all, we are imperfect beings with an inherent need to look out for ourselves first, others second. But relationships that take work and patience and perseverance are ones worth having.
If you hope to strengthen your relationships and get as much out of them as possible, then consider taking a different approach.
Whether a long term romantic relationship, a close sibling or friend or starting fresh at the office with a new co-worker, helping to enrich their lives will also serve to enrich yours.