12 Most Lasting Ways to Build a Relationship
We sometimes think of relationships as evolving under their own power, with no help or hindrance from our behavior. In fact, we build or tear down a relationship every time we interact with people. The stronger our relationships, the more likely that they (and we) will be able to withstand trouble and remain intact.
There are several ways to build strong relationships — here are twelve:
Probably the most-needed and least taught of all the language skills! Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.” Be the person listening! You’ll quickly realize this is the best way to learn and you’ll end up having something important and interesting to say.
2. Demonstrate respect
Showing others respect is a powerful tool in building relationships. Respect isn’t the same as agreement; respect doesn’t mean doing all the hard work yourself. It simply means recognizing the worth of a person. Behave with courtesy: listen more than you speak, pay attention, do not dismiss others or their ideas. Remember Aretha Franklin and show a little respect.
3. Demonstrate responsibility
Like respect, responsibility is about making a decision. Recognize that you are responsible for your emotions. You get angry — others don’t make you feel that way. Own your emotions (you will probably get angry) and control them. Likewise, recognize that your behavior is your responsibility. Choose what to do with the anger; choose how to greet people each day (even those who were rude to you yesterday); choose how to speak to the customer or colleague who keeps interrupting you. Be responsible for yourself. Although the focus is on you, this is a great way to build relationships.
4. Invite input from others
Some people don’t wait to be invited — they will be eager to let you know how they feel, all the time. But notice those who don’t share so easily. Ask for the opinions and ideas of those who are hesitant to share. The more information you collect, the more opportunity you’ll have to learn about the topic — and about the people who have something to say about the topic. Asking good questions and genuinely inviting others to share ideas will help build the relationship.
5. Take time for others
You probably schedule time for the important things in your life: doctor’s appointments, oil changes, cable TV hookups, and meetings with the boss. You are likely to also have some type of a schedule or calendar feature that schedules tasks: turn in project on Tuesday, pay bills on Friday, and clean out email on Saturday. But what about people? Do you make time for the people in your life? Schedule people time, not just task time.
6. Meet in person
Technology allows us to “communicate” with people all over the world without ever having to leave our computer. This can be wonderful — grandparents in Europe can see the video of a grandchild’s first steps, across time zones and oceans. But something suffers when all our communication is electronic. As possible, schedule in-person conversations with people. Sit down with someone over lunch or coffee and have a conversation that includes eye contact, gestures, smiles, and facial expressions. A great building tool!
7. Pay attention to your body language
And speaking of meeting in person, pay attention to what your body is saying about you. Stiff, dismissive, impatient, hurried, frustrated, annoyed — all these come through without words. Eager, receptive, appreciative, interested, patient, willing — all these come through without words too. Your body speaks even when your mouth does not. Pay attention because it will greatly affect your relationships.
8. Pay attention to others’ body language
Just as your body language gives clues about where you’re coming from, so does the body language of others. Pay attention to what you see. A colleague asked her doctor about his experience with a particular medical procedure and learned more from his turning away, looking down, and mumbling than from the words he spoke. If someone backs away from you when you speak, don’t chase him into a corner. Change your approach.
9. Work together on a solution
Don’t view conversations as win/lose battles. Work together for an outcome that helps you both. If you can stay open-minded, you might come up with something neither had thought of before. A friend of mine decided to quit her job because her family situation changed and she needed to care for her aging mother. Her supervisor really wanted her to stay. They worked together to design an arrangement where she works part-time from home and part-time in the office. This hadn’t ever been done before in her department but because she and her supervisor worked hard together, they came up with a mutually beneficial solution.
10. Focus on commonalities and areas of agreement
It’s easy to concentrate on differences of opinion or personality challenges — they jump out at us. Finding we have something in common takes more time and effort. A colleague told me the story of a father and toddler son who were having dinner together while mom was working late. The father kept saying, “Eat your peas.” The son kept saying “no.” The conversation went on like that for several minutes, with higher volume, a few threats, and many tears. Finally the father realized there were some things they shared: they both wanted the son to be strong and healthy, and they both agreed vegetables were necessary for that. Turns out the kid just hated peas. When offered green beans, he ate them quickly and the dinner standoff ended.
11. Think of the future: what will matter a month from now
Some issues get worse over time. My husband and I tried a new restaurant several years ago. I really like it but he didn’t. I didn’t know that, though, because he saw my excitement about it and went along, pretending to have enjoyed his meal. The problem was, I kept wanting to go back, not realizing he didn’t like the place. When that news finally came out, years later, it was a much bigger deal than it would have been early on.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s best to let some things slide. A friend told me about an argument she was having with her roommate. My friend became infuriated by what her roommate was saying but realized it was better to just keep her mouth shut. “After all,” she told me, “I knew I’d still have to live with her tomorrow.” When you can bite your tongue, do so.
12. “Seek first to understand”
Steven R. Covey included this wisdom as one of his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. To me, this is the most powerful of all the habits. If you are able to understand someone else, you are in a position to support, inform, persuade, engage — and explain your own perspective. Think of the problems that would be easily solved or even avoided completely if everyone tried to understand the perspective of other people.
Good relationships can make the difference in how we work, play, and enjoy our leisure time. As we make a conscious effort to invest time and energy in others, we’ll be rewarded with strong relationships that will survive tough times. What have you found to be helpful in strengthening relationships?
Featured image courtesy of eflon licensed via Creative Commons.