3 Surefire Ways to Be a Better Friend, Parent, or Lover

Dawn Bevier

Knowing and giving people what they need is the key to fulfilling personal relationships that benefit everyone (yourself included)

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There is no surer way to fulfilling interactions with others than having a knowledge of people and their needs, desires, and motivations. No matter the area of life, an understanding of what makes people “tick” is the key to making your relationships, your world, and the world of others the best that it can be.

For example, Warren Buffet said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” At certain times you may be the one sitting in the shade from another’s kindness. And many times, if you’re a good person, you have probably already planted a tree or two yourself so that others could find shelter from an often cruel world.

It is an indisputable truth that the actions (or lack of actions) that we take concerning others inevitably come back to reward us or haunt us.

And by satisfying the needs of the people to whom we are closest, our lives (and theirs) can be richer, fuller, and more prosperous.

So, the question is, what needs must be satisfied of others to reap these wonderful rewards?

Here are three of the most important ones.

People need someone to believe in them

Even the most confident person has moments where they feel unsure, hesitant, and simply “not good enough.” Oftentimes, I don’t think we realize just how important it is to offer people a bit of confidence when they cannot conjure it up for themselves.

Naysayers may say that positive reinforcement through praise or complimentary statements provides only temporary worth. They may argue that instead, true confidence must come from within.

But the truth is that one compliment can often “start the ball rolling” and change a person’s life.

A word of self-assurance can go a long way for a number of reasons:

  • Your word of praise gives people immediate inspiration to act, follow-through, or take a leap of faith in that very moment.
  • The fact that your praise or deserved recognition results in positive action on the recipient’s part can create a new world of changes that will incite more intrinsic confidence and growth in the person.
  • Positive words of commendation burrow themselves into an individual’s psyche and come back to him or her in his or her weakest moments.

As a teacher, I have seen this phenomenon so many times with my “kids” — the students I teach.

For example, I had a student whom I will call Michael. Michael was in my “regular” English class, a class that was not a very motivated one at that. However, Michael was different. He worked hard, asked questions, and excelled at every assignment. I told him how proud of his accomplishments I was and how he should register for an honors class the next year.

He took my advice. I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous for him because excellence in a regular class does not mean surefire success in an honors class. There is more homework, less coddling, and higher expectations.

The next year when he was in this honors class, I asked him how he was doing. He was making a high “B,” a grade almost as high as he had made in my regular class. Towards the end of the honors class, he came back to see me and told me he had enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Program, the most prestigious program at the school, where students undergo rigorous independent assignments with extremely stringent expectations. It is similar to the Advanced Placement courses in high school that can actually earn students college credit.

To this day, Michael is not only succeeding but excelling in this curriculum.

Perhaps I give myself a bit too much credit, but I can’t help but believe a large part of this was due to my initial words of praise. Those words gave him the confidence he was lacking and started a chain reaction that helped him believe in his abilities more and more.

And still, when days are particularly challenging, he will visit me to say hello and speak of his past role in my class, indirectly “fishing” for a reminder of his own skills and abilities in order to keep his motivation alive.

The truth is that we all need these votes of confidence from time to time. We need to have our positive qualities mirrored back to us from our lovers, friends, and family, and we need to give others the same validation and recognition. So when someone special in your life is struggling, give them these positive words freely.

You may not only change their life with these words, but you may change the universe itself by putting more love and kindness out into the world. And who knows how wonderfully loud these acts will echo in the universe?

People need someone to tell them the truth

Building confidence is a wonderful thing, but too much of a good thing can turn into pride. And pride is the result of many a downfall and the destruction of many a relationship.

C.S. Lewis said that “a proud man is always looking down on things and people; and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

What is that thing above you?

Greater fulfillment, happiness, and success.

For there are no perfect people: no perfect friends, no perfect parents, no perfect lovers.

People can always get better at “doing life.” And the only way to do this is to have someone tell them the truth about their actions, words, and behaviors.

There is a teacher saying that in every essay you should give two comments: “one to glow on and one to grow on.”

This means to give praise to the things students do well but to also give constructive criticism where it is needed.

And the same is true with personal relationships.

Without giving the people in our lives the truth, two detrimental things happen:

  • People sit too proudly on their past laurels and stagnate.
  • People’s negative behaviors or mindsets grow in power and strength, lessening the chance that they will overcome them.

Personal relationships need truth, spoken respectfully mind you, but spoken nonetheless.

And when you state your truth, here are some surefire ways to make sure it is used to its advantage.

  • As I said before, start with praise. This sets a positive tone. When you tell someone what they do well, they are more receptive to your words on possible areas in which they need to improve.
  • Make your truth constructive, specific and provide actionable steps. Avoid blanket statements such as “You need to work harder on our relationship.” Tell your partner specifically what they can focus on to make the marriage or romance more successful. Vague statements are overwhelming and ineffective and only serve to make individuals feel confused or frustrated.
  • Give the truth from a place of caring, not a place of degradation or superiority. Explain that you want the best for the person.
  • Combine truth with inspiration. Motivate the person by telling them the benefits that this truth can bring to his or her personal happiness, relationships, or a general sense of fulfillment in life.

Robert Louis Stevenson says that “we are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”

Be that friend. Or that lover. Or that parent. Give the people you care for or interact with “one to glow on and one to grow on,” and their life (and even yours) may change in wonderful, unexpected ways.

People need someone to understand them

Whether rational or irrational, the decisions people make every day are made for a reason. They may be motivated by emotions such as anger or they may be based on outcomes and situations they have experienced in the past. And they usually desire someone to understand why they did what they did.

Jade Mazarin points out in his article in Psych Central that when people have problems or make important decisions or changes to their lives, they want others“ [not to] blame [them] for what [they] are experiencing, [to] know [their reactions] are typical… and [to] still think well of [them].”

This is not to say that people always want others to agree with their responses or provide validation that their behaviors were the best ones (even though this is what some may want). But people do want others to know that they had what at least seemed like valid reasons at the time for their course of action.

For instance, my mother recently had to put my grandmother into a nursing home because of her dementia. It devastated her to do so, but for her mother’s own safety and well-being, this was the only true way to ensure that she had the physical care and protection she so desperately needed.

In her grief at having to take these steps, she needed others to know all the other attempts she had tried to keep her at the home she loved, all the dangerous things that her mother’s dementia had caused when she was left alone, and all the pain and guilt that she felt for having to place her in a home.

I gave this to her by telling her that her reasons were valid and that I knew her choices were made out of love and not selfishness.

For my mother and for most people, just knowing that another person understands or has been in a similar situation makes them accept themselves more or even forgive themselves a bit for failing to handle a situation in the right way.

Psychology Today points out that “not feeling that others really know us can leave us feeling hopelessly estranged from the rest of society” and that “feeling understood is a prerequisite for our other desires to be satisfyingly fulfilled.”

Here are some ways to make the people you interact with every day feel more understood.

  • Listen. Really listen. Listen to words said and the emotions or needs that may underlie these words. Don’t glance at your phone or check texts when important people in your life are talking. Use eye contact and body language to let them know that your real focus in on them.
  • Try to relate. When others come to you with their experiences or explain why they did what they did, express a time when you felt the same emotions or experienced similar dilemmas. This makes them feel less alone.
  • Offer words of understanding. Try to validate their words with phrases such as “I know what you mean,” “I’ve been there,” or “ I’ve thought the same thing a thousand times.” These comments let them know that they are not isolated anomalies. It also reminds them that others have made the same mistakes, thought the same thoughts, or been faced with similar dilemmas. This empathy provides others with the strength to push through challenging situations, move forward more confidently, and even forgive themselves for their failings.

The bottom line

Author and poet Drishti Bablani says to“never underestimate the empowering effect of human connection. All you need is that one person, who understands you completely, believes in you and makes you feel loved for what you are, to enable you — to unfold the miraculous YOU.”

So be that person. Help others by seeing their strengths (and weaknesses) and listening to them and letting them know that they are not alone.

If you are a lover wanting a better relationship, if you are a parent wanting a greater connection with your children, or if you are a friend seeking a closer connection, practice these strategies.

And, oh yes, here’s another “one to grow on.” Try practicing these strategies on yourself as well. After all, sometimes the best friend or person you can have on your side is you.

Here’s to making your world and the world of others brighter and more full of growth, happiness, and love

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My goal is to provide you with thoughtful, informative, and inspirational content that may increase your productivity, relationships, and well-being.

Sanford, NC
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