The quality of our life depends on the quality of our relationships. This is probably why, like many, I’ve always looked for answers on how to better connect with others. Improving my relationships has always been a priority to me.
I’ve always observed people in social situations, I’ve read hundreds of books and articles about relationships and social skills, and I’ve tried to apply all the advice I felt was worth following.
There are things I’ve learned through the years that are having a strong and positive impact on my relationships, and that can be summarized through the following seven lessons.
1. Be Always Present, or You Might Regret It in the Future
When my grandfather was still alive, I tried to not take his presence for granted. I knew he wasn’t going to be there forever, so I tried to enjoy every moment I was spending with him. Yet, I often fell into the trap of constantly checking my phone while I was with him, and letting notifications distract me from our conversations.
Obviously, today I regret it. If I could go back in time I would change that. However, I can’t. So I now see it as a lesson — which is the best and only thing I can do — and I’m applying it to all my relationships.
Being present when we are with others, especially with our loved ones, is one of the best things we can do for them, and also the best gift we can give to ourselves.
Make sure you fully enjoy your time with the people you love, because one day you will miss those moments.
2. Learn to Feel the Joy of Giving
As I mentioned in a recent article, I find natural givers special and unique. However, most of us are inclined — at least to some extent — to want something in return when we give.
This is why, when it comes to improving our relationships, the best thing we can learn is actually to feel the joy of giving and do things out of love, without expecting anything in return. When we learn to do it, life becomes easier, because there we have no expectations.
As Jack Schafer Ph.D. explains in an interesting article published in Psychology Today, giving without expectations improves your life and could change the lives of others.
3. Be Honest, That’s How You Build Trust
Honesty builds trust. In fact, according to research, we tend to be more trusting of people who we know to be honest.
Years ago I was singing in a band. I remember I often asked for feedback to the other members of the band. They always told me my voice was great, that they wouldn’t change anything on how I performed. Yet, I could feel there was something I could improve, I just couldn’t put a finger on it.
One day, I was mentioning this to Maya, the girlfriend of the guitarist. She told me: “I love the way you sing, and you know it. However, as a friend, I think I have to tell you what the guys will never tell you. You really have to work on your stage presence, when you sing you hardly move because you focus too much on your voice.”
I needed that feedback, and was happy to receive it. Maya was honest with me, and she was right. Her honesty made me trust her more than anyone in that environment. It’s not that I didn’t trust my band, or that they did something wrong. They weren’t telling me what Maya told me to avoid hurting my feelings. However, I knew that whenever I needed some feedback, I had to ask Maya, not the guys.
4. Be Ridiculously Kind to Others
This might sound obvious. Yet, many of us often forget the importance of it. The point is this: you never know what’s behind other people’s actions or words.
If someone is being rude to you, they might be going through tough times, they might have had a bad day, or they might have lost their job. Yes, they also might be simply inconsiderate or arrogant without any reason, but still, there’s no way to know that for sure.
This is why sometimes it’s good to let go of the need of being right or “winning” and just be kind. I know it’s hard, however, if you do it, you might be the person who brightens someone else’s day — and life may be easier for you too. Responding with calm and kindness is always a sign of strength, not weakness. Remember that.
5. Sometimes People Only Need Your Emotional Support, Not Your Advice
Eleven years ago, I lost my grandmother. It was hard as it was the first time in my life I had to cope with grief. I remember a friend of mine started to tell me I needed to go out, take long walks, hang out with my friends and stay busy, as much as I could. Honestly, in that period, talking to this friend was exhausting. Her advice was the last thing I needed in that moment. I just needed to feel emotionally supported.
If someone is going through a hard time, don’t tell them what to do. Usually, your advice is not what they actually need. Tell them you are there for them if they need you, instead. It’s with your emotional support that you can make someone feel cared for, not with your tips.
6. What May Seem Insignificant to You, Might Be Important to Someone Else
I post polls on Instagram almost every day, and I often fall into the trap of thinking I already know what people are going to answer. Every time I do it, the poll results surprise me. And that’s always a reminder of this: We all think differently and give priority to different things.
For example, a few days ago I posted the following poll: “What’s more important to you in a relationship? Words or actions?”
I assumed people were going to answer “actions” — because it was my answer to that question. Instead, 45% of people answered “words,” which surprised me. However, it also reminded me that sometimes we tend to assume everyone thinks like we do, while the opposite is true.
People have priorities and preferences which can be different from yours. Always respect and accept that.
7. Whenever You Feel Your Best, Pay Attention Who You’re With
As I mentioned, the quality of our relationships is vital to the quality of our life. This is why we should not only make an effort to make others feel good in our company, but also surround ourselves with people who make us feel good.
In the past, I often made the mistake of making an extra effort to become friends with people who simply weren’t interested in engaging with me or getting to know me better. Actually, the mistake here was not trying to be kind to someone who wasn’t being kind to me, but thinking that there was something wrong with me, and trying even harder.
When I started to hang out with people who made me feel good instead, I also started to understand that I had to surround myself with the right people. And that’s probably one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned.
Applying these small lessons to every relationship is not easy. For example, it’s not always easy to be kind to a difficult client yelling at you on the phone; it’s not always easy to recognize the people you should surround yourself with. However, you can always try to put these things into practice.
After trying to apply these lessons for years, I started to see my relationships improving — and most importantly, I started to notice I was working not only on my relationships but also on myself.