Tuesday, December 29, 2009

5 Reminders to Help Build Stronger Relationships

By: Chalene Johnson
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Happy Holidays to everyone
You’re distracted and upset. The dull ache in your stomach has robbed you of your appetite. You just can’t focus. Your day is a blur. You nearly ran a red light. The most recent events keep playing through your mind. Something is awry with one or more of your closest relationships. You ask yourself, “Why is this not working?” You may think, “Could I have married the wrong person?” Or maybe you wonder, “Is my best friend totally changing or did I just never see this side of her?” Maybe your impasse is in the workplace, “I used to adore my boss, now I see him for what he really is.”

When things aren’t going the way you want with the most important people in our life, you have to realize that the most important area of your life needs attention. People are the most important. People are more important than your job, your car, your house, your bank account, your clothes, your appearance. Yup. We work at all these other areas, yet we expect relationships with our important “people” to just happen naturally. But they don’t; relationships take work.

Learn to build better relationships with your family, coworkers, friends and your spouse or significant other. I’m not talking small talk, or humor, I’m talking about going to a deeper level. Faltering relationships can sabotage your attitude, your ability to perform, your weight and even your financial success. When your relationships are supportive, you feel like you can do anything. Create success in all areas of your life by understanding that relationships take thought, planning, attention and time. Building better relationships is a skill that with practice you can master.

Here are a few tips to help you build stronger relationships.

1. Read! Remember…you’re not the first. Whatever it is you’re going through, someone else has already gone through it and figured it out. Save time and headaches by relying on the expertise of others. Having difficulty with your teenager? Try “Yes your Teen is Crazy” by Michael Bradley. Wanna be a better spouse? Read “The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage” by Laura Schlessinger. Do you have a habit of investing time with people and find out later that they don’t share your morals, values or even common interests? Try ‘When Friendship Hurts” by Jan Yager. The easiest way to make sense of relationships and improve on your own is to learn from the experts. Read! No time to read? Then listen! Most books are available on CD too! Books give us wisdom, knowledge and help us learn from the experiences of others. Priceless.

2. Be aware of subtle cues. Your spouse asks, “How was your day?” Your response is automated, “Fine. How was yours?” His question was a subtle invitation to connect; an opportunity for you to share. You’re in a rush, late for an appointment, and bump into a casual acquaintance. You mention your pending meeting and do your best to quickly exit the encounter. You say, “Well, great to see you!” Yet, the other party continues to engage in conversation. You smile, while nodding and walking backwards away from the conversation with the most obvious of “I really need to go” body language. All the while he/she rambles on, oblivious to your body language. Yet, most cues from the important people in our life are more subtle. We recognize the slight inflection in our spouse’s voice that tells us he’s in a great mood, the nervous hands of our Mother when she’s uncomfortable with a particular topic, the facial expression of a friend when we need to decline their offer to get together. These are hints. Disregarding these cues because “you don’t want to deal with it” may lead to trouble. We offer hints when we want to send a message but want to avoid direct confrontation. When our subtle cues are overlooked we feel rejected. Learn how to spot these cues and how to acknowledge the sender!

3. Listen. Consider the words people use. Know the communication style of the people most important to you. You can learn how to interpret a person’s feelings by their word choice. Words can convey mood, emotion, underlying feelings and even messages meant to be subtle. Words can invite more of a connection or tell someone that your guard is up! Words like “hurt”, “lonely”, “always”, “never”, “painful” are used to draw others in, to solicit empathy and a reaction. Ironically, these words can produce the opposite reaction. Emotionally laden words scare people and can further isolate the user. To improve your relationships know the communication style of the people dearest to you. Make note of “red flag” words, or comments, that invite further communication.

4. Appreciate. Our need to feel needed, to feel important and desired in all relationships is a driving force for most of us. One of the best things my Mom did was greet us kids after school with excitement and a hug. I always felt like she was excited to see us and that made us feel special. I try to do the same for my kids. I let them know my world is brighter when they’re around. When I walk in the front door at Powder Blue Productions, even after so many years, Ellie (our customer relations expert) makes me feel like the Queen of England. She doesn’t just greet our customers with this enthusiasm, but each employee too. It sets the tone for the mood in our office. Try this yourself with the important people in your life. Greet your partner like he or she has been away for months. Act excited, happy, and undistracted. Make your partner feel as though the sun rises and sets because of them. Tell your best friend what it is that you most appreciate about them. Do a better job of thanking your partner for the little things he or she does that you appreciate. Take the time to send a thank you note to someone whose relationship you realize you’ve taken for granted. Let people know how much they mean to you.

5. Let go. One of the best ways to strengthen important relationships is to let go of those that are not helpful, healthy, supportive or rewarding. We all have someone in our life who seems dependant on us for all the wrong reasons. While even the best relationships have ups and downs, relationships with “life suckers” are almost always troublesome, draining, difficult and one-sided. The challenge is not in our ability to know which relationships are toxic, but what to do with them and how to end, or at least lessen, the ties. I’m not a psychotherapist, but it has always been my belief that once you realize you need to spend less time with someone, you just spend less time with them. Simple. Oh sure, plenty of experts will disagree with me, but I just don’t think there needs to be some big “confrontation” during which you express your disappointment in the relationship, or highlight the one-sidedness of your relationship. What’s the point? People don’t change. Just go about your business and invest more time with the important people in your life.

All relationships worth having take work. It’s funny how much time people spend working on their businesses, their bodies, their homes, their bank accounts and worrying what other people think of them. Ironically, all those areas fall into place when you put important people, the right people first.

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