How can we grow closer to others? By reciprocating trust and respect. In other words, I need to know that you have my back, and you have to feel that I believe in you. This is why giving and receiving good news is so beneficial for relationships (for more, see How to Be Great at Relating, Blog #1 and Blog #2).
The 2016 U.S. presidential election broadcast many examples of people distrusting and disrespecting one another. The result has been divisiveness. On the flip side, consider how powerful it is when we honor and show confidence in one another. We flourish together! However, goodwill won’t achieve much until we help others experience it. In fact, failure to demonstrate positive feelings for others can inadvertently make them feel undervalued. NOT the route to robust relationships!
After a very tough week, my boyfriend surprised me with flowers and a slice of my favorite chocolate mousse pie. Usually I don’t share such acts of kindness on social media, because I’m afraid of embarrassing my humble guy. However, when I posted an appreciative message for his gifts, he told me how happy that made him. I helped him to feel valued rather than just quietly enjoying his thoughtfulness.
Although you may know that you trust, respect, and appreciate someone, to make your relationship stronger you need to learn to express your positive regard so that they know it. Here are some ways to do just that:
- DON’T ignore someone. Ever. Even if you feel that you have a legitimate reason to not pay attention, failing to acknowledge the other person sends a clear signal that “I don’t care about you” and “You are not as important as what I’ve got going on right now.”
- DO focus on the other person when they seek your attention. This means making eye contact, facing towards them, and putting down whatever device or task you’re doing. Make your hands and mind as clear as possible so that you can fully attend to the person. If you have a reason why you can’t pay attention, clearly tell the person why and promise to pay attention at the soonest opportunity. Say something like “I really want to listen to what you’re telling me, but I have a splitting headache because my blood sugar is low. Want to come with me while I get a snack, and then you can tell me all about it?”
- DON’T discount someone else. This includes dissing of any kind, including belittling someone’s opinions, feelings, behaviors, or values.
- DO accept that what they say matters. Whether you think the content of what they say is true or important isn’t relevant. Focus on the fact that if it’s important to someone important to you, then it’s important for you, too.
- DON’T do all the talking. Leaving no room for the other person to speak sends the signal “I don’t care about what you think or have to say.”
- DO make space for the other person to talk. In addition to leaving pauses for the other person to jump in, ask questions that invite them in, such as “What do you think?”
- DON’T keep compliments to yourself. Not expressing your high opinion for someone means that they may not know how you feel. If you never speak up, they may even believe that you harbor negative feelings or thoughts towards them!
- DO show gratitude for your listener. Give them praise and thanks by naming specific actions that spotlight positive character traits. For example, “I really admire how you shared your opinion in class. I thought that it was very brave and respectful of you.”
- DON’T always be the one to respond. Relationships are two-way streets, and if the other person is always initiating, it can make the other person doubt whether you care.
- DO initiate contact. Reach out to others by striking up conversations, extending invitations, or even just saying hi. Being the one to get things started shows that you care enough to invest effort in the relationship.
For the rest of today, when interacting with others try these techniques to show that you appreciate, trust, and respect them. What thoughts and emotions did you experience? Did you feel closer to the other person? Keep this up for the next three days and notice how it affects the quality of your interactions. By showing others that they matter to you, you will catalyze growth for more intimate and joyful relationships!