How to Cultivate Better Relationships
Our entire lives revolve around relationships, from birth to death: families, partners, co-workers, friends, and so on. The quality of our relationships in large part determines the quality of our lives, yet we rarely think about them or put effort into improving them until they are in crisis. Why is that?
We don’t really know the answer to that question, but what we do know is that it’s human nature to respond to and focus on the urgent problems first. We often don’t get around to paying attention to the quality of our relationships until it’s too late. The good news is, the importance and the amount of effort we spend cultivating better relationships is within our control.
How can we cultivate better relationships?
Whether we’re looking at personal, professional, or social relationships, the same relationship strategies apply. Try one or try them all.
Honesty is never misplaced. Be yourself. Be real. Don’t try to be the person they want or expect you to be. Be the person you want to be from the beginning. A major source of relationship conflict is caused by trying to be and act differently to please another person. It drains you and leads to frustration for both you and the other person.
Express your wants and needs honestly and clearly. It might feel uncomfortable or selfish, but it actually makes it easier for the other person to give you what you truly want or to let you know honestly that they can’t or won’t. It also helps to express your feelings openly. If you are mad or sad, say so. It’s impossible to fix a problem if the other person doesn’t know it exists.
One of the most important ways to improve any relationship is to build trust. Trust is a two way street. You need to be worthy of trust and be able to trust the other person in return. The best way to build trust is by being a person of integrity and respect. Keep your promises so people learn to rely on your word. Respect other people’s feelings and keep confidences.
Often we are wary of trusting others because we have been burned in the past, but relationships that aren’t built on trust tend to be shallow and meaningless. Trust is especially important in close, important relationships. It’s exhausting to spend our lives in a relationship when we are worrying about what the other person is going to say or do and whether or not they will let us down. Sometimes in less important relationships, at work for example, the ability to trust is limited. If you can, try to cultivate relationships with those co-workers who demonstrate integrity and trustworthiness.
Good communication is crucial to have a good relationship of any kind. Learn to be a better listener. Give the other person your attention and really try to understand what they are trying to communicate. Practice active listening, don’t interrupt, and think about what you’re going to say in response. Don’t assume you know what the other person is going to say. Just listen and then confirm that you understand the other person’s ideas, concerns, or feelings.
Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Verbally pointing the finger at another person shuts down communication. Rather than assigning blame focus on expressing feelings, seeking understanding and collaborating on solutions.
We all want to be right. It’s part of human nature to want others to see things our way. However, this attitude is a major cause of conflicts. Shift your focus from “my way” to “our way.”
- Listen and try to understand the other person’s perspective.
- Respect that different points of view are valid.
- Don’t force your opinion on others. Don’t be self-righteous.
- Be assertive, not aggressive.
- Stay away from “always” or “never.” They feel blaming and are rarely true.
- Make requests, not demands. The other person has the right to politely refuse.
- Let go of your expectations of how you want things to be.
- Put anger, frustration, and judgment aside and focus on the real substance of the conflict.
- Don’t give advice unless it’s asked for. Don’t lecture. It can come off as condescending.
- Don’t try to change the other person. Persuade or influence yes, force no.
- Both parties must contribute to finding resolution. Unbalanced power only escalates conflict.
Give and Take
Try to focus on giving to the other person, not just receiving. Reciprocate kindness and consideration. Offer emotional support that addresses the needs and feelings of the other person and expect to receive it in return. Give time and attention generously. Let the other person know that they are valued.
Focus on the positive, not the flaws. Express appreciation for the contribution the other person makes to the relationship. The small daily gestures often have the most impact on the quality of a relationship. Small acts of kindness are important.
The best way to cultivate better relationships is by treating people the way you want to be treated. The Golden Rule applies. Remember it’s not just about you; there are two people in a relationship. Consider the needs of the other person. Expect and give respect, honesty, trust, understanding, and kindness. Generally, the quality of a relationship is determined by the amount of effort you put into it.