In the end, most of our success or failure comes back to how we interact with others.
There is no skill more valuable in the world today than the ability to build human relationships. In one’s personal world and in one’s career, the connections one makes and sustains with others are either the building blocks to happiness and prosperity or the swords which sever one from success and joy.
For example, no professional organization, no athletic team, no business will prosper unless they can create positive working relationships with each other and with their clients.
Case in point. I’m a twenty-three-year veteran teacher and I know through decades of experience that the student-teacher relationship is the most important factor in growth and achievement.
My personal belief on the value of this bond is backed by a plethora of scientific research as well.
For example, Education Week cites that “a review of Educational Research analysis of 46 studies found that strong teacher-student relationships were associated in both the short-and-long-term with improvements on practically every measure schools care about: higher student academic engagement, attendance, grades, fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions, and lower school drop-out rates.”
Citing this fact, is it so difficult to see that this law of relationships can apply to every aspect of our lives as human beings?
As English poet John Donne said, “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”
And the truth is we need people. On every level.
On an emotional level, we need people to bond with, to support us, to help us put life into perspective and find enjoyment through life’s trials and tribulations.
But we also need people on a more professional level.
Even the most lucrative jobs where people “seemingly” work alone involve building up a clientele, and this means forming bonds and relationships with others.
And in today’s world, dominated by a vastly expanding and flourishing social media network, the importance of relationships is even more important. We may not like the game of “likes” and “follows” and “retweets,” but in many cases, it is the key to the things that garner success for our businesses and our personal goals.
So just how do we successfully create these bonds with other people?
Whether our goal is to expand our friendships, find a life partner, increase positive working relationships with co-workers, or build lifelong clients for our business endeavors, the strategies and techniques are all the same.
Implement some of these psychologically and scientifically backed tactics and you will enhance any relationship.
1. Listen. Really Listen.
So often we feel the way to build relationships is through “promoting” ourselves and our accomplishments, but the opposite is actually true.
And be aware that in order to create meaningful relationships, not only must you listen. You must listen in the right way.
Psychology Today’s article by Ph.D. Diana Raab entitled “Deep Listening in Personal Relationships” explains this technique as active listening. They cite a study by Faye Doell which relays the fact that that we must “listen to understand” rather than “listen to respond.”
So often in conversations, we stop hearing another’s words because we are focused on what we want to say next. We remain silent but are not truly listening; we are simply waiting for another person to stop speaking so that we can interject our own thoughts.
Active listening is a strategy that lessens this tendency. It involves noting when we subconsciously “tune-out” another’s person’s words and then purposefully redirecting our focus back to what he or she is saying. Here are some tips to be a better active listener.
- Ask questions as a follow-up to people’s words. Make it your goal to learn something from each person with whom you have a conversation.
- Find ways to repeat or paraphrase what the person has said so that he or she is aware that you are, in fact, paying attention.
- Maintain eye contact and use body language to show you are engaged in what the person is saying.
Why is listening so important to building relationships?
Everyone wants to be heard. To be understood. To be appreciated. And knowing that someone is truly engaged in what you are saying and finding your words valuable and important is key to bonding with another person. As Carl W. Buechner said, “[People] may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” And if you make a person feel significant, they will respond more positively to you and to anything that you have to say as well.
2. Provide Genuinely Positive Feedback in the Form of Compliments or Words of Appreciation.
Dale Carnegie, writer, self-improvement guru, and leader on building interpersonal skills, says it best when he states that “when dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”
And what engenders positive emotions in a person more than words of praise?
When people notice our special qualities or abilities, our hard work or talent, we cannot help but respond positively back towards them.
For example, one rule of feedback teachers are taught to use when helping a student is to “give them one to grow on and one to glow on.”
This means issuing constructive criticism kindly side-by-side with praise for the talents or effort a student displays.
Everyone in this world is special in some way. And conscientiously seeking to see and acknowledge a person’s special gifts always creates the foundation for making and maintaining good relationships.
Do not, however, be disingenuous. Flattery used as manipulation is easily uncovered. Make your words of praise honest and genuine.
Here are some things that you can consider as you seek out ways to acknowledge and relay to another his or her own special gifts:
- Call attention to a person’s skills, especially when dealing with relationships of a professional nature. Tell someone if they a knack for creative thinking, for using data to its best advantage, for on the job problem-solving. In addition to building a relationship with these kind words, you will also multiply said person’s efforts.
For example, Tinypulse.com’s article by Justin Reynolds cites information from a Career Builder survey and a 2019 Employee engagement Report that states “40% of employees said they were unlikely to go above and beyond if their bosses took their efforts for granted.”
- Call attention to a person’s work ethic, grit, or perseverance. If an employee has been working late hours or heading a certain business project that is difficult or taxing, commend him or her for their dedication to the company, for his or her tenacity in the face of arduous assignments or complex tasks which he or she is charged to complete.
- Compliment a person’s traits of empathy or kindness. If a person has gone out of their way to help you or others, let that person know that you admire their integrity and compassion. Receiving praise on who we are is perhaps even more valuable than kind words on what we do.
An important note:
Compliments seem more genuine when you back up words of praise with a specific example on when said trait was displayed. The more specific words of praise are, the more authentic they feel and the more endearing they are to the listener.
Pastor and author on leadership Dan Reiland validates giving words of praise to build deeper connections with people when he states to “be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are making them feel good about you.”
3. Get Personal: Reveal Your Flaws, Empathize, and Commiserate
In the Bible, the sin of pride is the most damning and this fact is also true in the world of relationships. The truth is we are all flawed beings, and projecting an image of superiority does nothing but turn others away.
As a matter of fact, openly revealing our own special struggles and weaknesses is often the key to bonding and building life-long relationships with others.
Author C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
No truer words were said. Except perhaps “Misery loves company.”
Being vulnerable and exposing our humanity makes it easier for people to relate to us, to open up to us about their own special struggles. We bond with people who admit their mistakes because it makes us feel more accepting of ourselves and of our own imperfections.
As a matter of fact, in an article by CNBC entitled “Being Vulnerable can make you more successful at work — here’s how,” it cites information from The Harvard Business Review which finds that open admission of struggles and mistakes in the workplace “breeds greater levels of hope and trust” and creates a “culture of forgiveness.” They further state that these effects improve employee performance and productivity as a whole.
Admitting our mistakes and shortcomings is paramount to building relationships because it not only ties us to our fellow man, it allows us to commiserate with and empathize with others.
Think of the friendships created over the years. Most happened not only because you shared your weaknesses and vulnerabilities but also because another person experienced some of those same tribulations.
Think of the bonds built in school over demanding teachers.
Think of the bonds built at work over on the job struggles. Oftentimes, for example, these moments of shared experience lead to co-workers who date or marry.
Think of motherhood and how many friends have been made discussing the pains of sleep deprivation, loss of private time, and “the terrible twos.”
In short, when the moment presents itself:
- Acknowledge your own failures and weaknesses. Be human.
- Sympathize with others’ sufferings and share your own.
An important note:
If a person opens up to you about a problem with which you are inexperienced, empathize. Don’t commiserate. Why? Because when really bad things happen to people, trying to commiserate with an event in your life that is obviously less tragic can sound insensitive or belittling. Instead, express an honest “I know I haven’t experienced ____________, and I can’t imagine how you must be feeling. It must be so difficult, and I’m sorry you are hurting.” This validates their pain and lets then know you are aware of the unique intensity of their distress.
4. Ask Their Advice
Seeking help from others can also be a valuable relationship builder. Again, people love to feel needed and valuable, and when you ask for help with a certain situation or problem, you are reminding them of their own worth.
Scientific American’s article “Asking Advice Makes a Good Impression” uses numerous simulations and studies to prove that this strategy produces two-fold benefits. They state that “by asking someone to share his or her personal wisdom, advice seeker’s stroke the advisor’s ego and can gain valuable insights.”
It’s a win-win, right?
One of their studies centered around a simulated workplace performance review. The people who were given the fictitious role as boss considered those who asked for advice on how to better their workplace performance “to be more likable and competent than those who did not ask for advice.”
One of the reasons we wish to bond with a certain person or build a relationship is because we find he or she admirable in some way. Use this knowledge to build a stronger relationship.
- Brainstorm the strengths of the person with whom you want to connect. Figure out areas in which their expertise can prove valuable.
- Ask their advice in said area.
An important note:
Asking advice must be done in the right place and at the right time. Do not pick a chaotic moment or a busy time in which said person’s time and work demands are at an apex.
Ask when the person is relaxed and available, such as a lunchtime meeting or a slow day at the office. You may even just stop in and let him or her know that you would like to get his or her advice on something when he or she has the time. My bet is they will come to you; after all, your admitted need for help has made them feel important. And no doubt, they will seek out more of that “feel-good” juice when the moment is right.
5. Be Happy.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it. But simple things are often the most profound.
It’s a well-known fact that happiness is contagious. We all know that person whose positive words or humorous comments make a bad day brighter. We seek them out sometimes just for that purpose, right?
Then be that person for others, and watch your relationships flourish.
The scientific theory behind how positive people attract friends is one called “emotional contagion.”
Huffpost explains this phenomenon in their article entitled “Emotional Contagion: Are Your Feelings ‘Infecting’ Others?” They state that when we are around happy people, the brain’s “Mirror Neuron System” reacts. This group of cells in the brain sees emotional signals in another person and then subconsciously internalizes and reproduces said responses in the body.
In short, when we project a positive, happy attitude and demeanor, others become happier as well.
And going back to Carnegie’s statement that we are “creatures of emotion,” it is logical to presume that positive interaction with others, where laughter and happiness are byproducts, will build bonds and promote relationships.
Of course, no one can be happy all the time, and pretenders who spew “false sunshine” often seem disingenuous.
However, attempting to find laughter or positive aspects to life’s obstacles and pains and then sharing those insights with others is a trait from which everyone can benefit.
The Bottom Line:
Franklin Roosevelt said that “if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships — the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.”
Understanding how to build and sustain positive relationships with others is a skill that could perhaps be the answer to most of the world’s misery, violence, and hate.
Unfortunately, we cannot change others who refuse to accept this truth. But we can work to foster human bonds with those in our daily lives and make these limited moments of our time on Earth more rewarding and more productive.
Promoting happiness and growth in all our endeavors, relationship building is a vital key to a life well-lived. Seek out this goal and watch your world become happier and more fulfilling.