A few days ago, a friend of mine sent a video in a WhatsApp group I’m part of. He wrote: “Amazing, watch it, you’ll love it.” It was a 12-minutes Ted Talk where Robert Waldinger, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, talked about the longest study on happiness.
In particular, Waldinger explained that the happiest people, tend to be the ones who have good relationships. Also, he explained that what determines the quality of our lives is not the quantity of our relationships but their quality.
That’s probably the reason why, many of us — if not most of us — look for answers about how to improve our relationships and better connect with others. For most of us, connecting with others is a priority.
After watching that video I’ve thought about the key habits I’ve learned during the last few years, that most impacted my relationships. I’ve come to the conclusion that the following three small habits can make the difference in any type of relationship.
1. Instead of Saying You’re Sorry for Someone, Offer to Help
This is not something you have to do with everyone, every time, of course. It’s something worth doing when you see a loved one struggling and you truly want to be there for them.
Obviously, whenever you decide to do that, you don’t want to only offer your help. You also want to follow through.
I remember when, four years ago, I lost my job. I was scared and felt emotionally exhausted. I had just relocated to a foreign country and had a rent and monthly bills to pay. The day lost my job, a friend of mine, Sarah, invited me to her place. I accepted as I really needed to talk with someone.
When I explained to her all my situation, she not only told me she was sorry for what I was going through; she actually told me she could have me at her place for one month, so that I could look for another job without too much pressure. All that for free.
She called the landlord in front of me to ask her if she was OK with that. She was not just talking, she was actually taking action to help me. I was speechless.
In the end, I was offered a job after a few days, so I didn’t need to move to her place. However, from that moment my relationship with Sarah changed.
I wasn’t expecting anyone to help me in that situation. She offered not only to be there if I needed to vent but also to actually support me as if I was family to her. I’ll never forget that. And today she’s one of the people I trust the most.
2. When Someone Calls You Out on Something You Did, Don’t Get Defensive; Apologize and Say How You Can Fix What You Did
This can be difficult. Most of us tend to get defensive — at least a bit — when we’re called out on something. We want to explain our intentions, and sometimes we don’t even want to admit to ourselves we’re actually wrong. I’m not saying we all do this, every time. However, let’s be honest, it’s something common.
Years ago, I had a manager who had the tendency to point out every tiny mistake I made. I tended to get defensive with him, as I felt he didn’t see my efforts and how I tried to contribute to the team every day. And for this reason I think I wasn’t one of his favorite reports.
I also think it was becoming challenging for him to deal with me: every time he gave me feedback I tried to prove him wrong by making him see my efforts — I know, that’s not the best attitude. I was inexperienced and still had a lot to learn.
One day he sent me an email with a list of improvement opportunities. Those were the mistakes I made the previous week. The day before I had read on Quora the following piece of advice:
When someone calls you out on something you did, don’t get defensive. Admit the mistake you made and offer to solve the problem you created. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness. And it makes you stand out in other people’s mind.
So that day, I decided to go left when my boss expected me to go right. I replied to his email thanking him for bringing those mistakes to my attention, apologizing, and explaining how I was planning to improve my performance. And from that day, I started to listen more actively to his feedback.
I didn’t become my manager’s favorite team member, however, things became much easier between us from that moment on.
3. Ask Follow-Up Questions
A few weeks ago, I ran into a former colleague in a shopping mall close to where I live. She asked me how things were going, and I told her about my writing. She asked me to tell her more and we ended up talking about my long-term plans. She kept asking me follow-up questions as she was curious and wanted to know more about the content I create.
Her interest was authentic, and talking to her felt good.
As I explained in a recent article, I believe follow-up questions are essential to have more meaningful conversations and better connect with others. If you think about it, few people have the habit of showing a genuine interest and diving deep in what you are sharing with them during a conversation.
And I don’t know about you, but those who do that usually stand out in my mind. They’re usually the people I want to spend more time with — because I feel good around them.
Follow-up questions are great also because they let us learn more about others, which eventually can help us build good relationships and nurture them.
Offering your help, admitting your mistakes without getting defensive and asking more follow-up questions are all small things that can massively improve your relationships.
Putting them into practice is not easy. However, you can start to apply these habits with the people you care about the most. Those are your most important relationships and it’s worth nurturing them, as much as you can.