We’re bombarded with messages about what we should be doing to improve our health and happiness—we need a nutritious diet, a regular exercise routine, a meditation practice, a satisfying hobby and so on. These things are, of course, important. But in our quest to thrive, we often neglect the one aspect of our lives that could have the most far-reaching and positive impact—our relationships.
Healthy relationships are a critical component of well-being. A long-term Harvard study revealed that close relationships are responsible for keeping people happy throughout their lives. In fact, social connections are better predictors of a long and happy existence than IQ, class, or even genes.
The takeaway is this: Tending to your relationships is equally as important as taking care of your body and mind.
Keys to Cultivating Healthy Relationships
The moment we’re are born, our first relationships are immediately established. With our parents, siblings, and extended family issued to us at birth, we don’t have to work on cultivating these relationships as children. They simply exist. The ease of creating connections (at least on the surface) continues as our parents make introductions and set up playdates. Teachers pair us with partners in high school classes, and a mentor is often assigned to us at our first job. We’re rarely responsible for any of it.
Time passes and the realities of adulthood sink in. Making friends isn’t as easy as it used to be, and many of the bonds we had change or disintegrate—sometimes even the family bonds that once seemed unshakable. Just like our physical and mental health, our relationships depend on us being aware of their condition and proactive about nurturing them.
To grow and sustain the relationships in your life—whether they’re personal or professional— focus on these strategies.
Communicate with intention.
Communication has and always will be the most important skill to develop when building and maintaining relationships with others. I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Don’t underestimate how much your tone of voice influences others’ perceptions.
A slight shift in tone can either make your interactions highly engaging or incredibly off-putting. It can be the agent that inspires your coworkers to trudge through the trenches with you as easily as it can cause them to jump ship. In the same way, tone can make all the difference between encouraging and disheartening your loved ones.
Being thoughtful and clear with your words is also crucial. One of my favorite quotes from The Art of War by Sun Tzu is, “If the instructions of the general are unclear, it is the fault of the general that the troops do not obey.” Choosing your words carefully and matching your tone with the intended effect will bridge the gap between your expectation and your reality.
Actively listen, and ask the right questions.
While effectively communicating your ideas is powerful, actively listening and recognizing the needs of others is just as vital to sound relationships.
Humans have an inherent desire to be understood. Often, we are so busy trying to get our own point across that we are not actually listening to what the other party is saying. Practice taking a moment to process each statement before responding. Read between the lines, and think before you speak.
When you do reply, ask thought-provoking questions that show you’re invested in the discussion and the person in front of you. We are naturally drawn to people who we sense are genuinely interested in our words and well-being.
Put forth positivity.
Think about a friend, family member, or coworker whose life seems to be filled with nothing but drama. You know, the person who’s constantly complaining about how the glass is half empty. We all have one (if not a few!). Now think about how it feels to be on the receiving end of this grumbling—it’s draining and depressing, correct?
We all need support from time to time, but solid relationships are a two-way street that’s paved with more optimism than commiseration. Be supportive to those in need and, by the same token, don’t be the guy or gal that dominates the relationship by making it all about you and your problems.
Leading with optimism is also beneficial in the workplace. Rather than piling on the difficulties in a given situation, demonstrate the value you bring by providing ideas for actionable solutions. Taking this initiative will aid your team’s performance as it allows them to approach a project or challenge with more confidence and direction (and less doubt and frustration). It is also an excellent way to display your critical-thinking skills, positioning you as an authority to your peers and an asset to your superiors.
Follow the Golden Rule.
This is a well-known yet often underutilized piece of advice. Quite simply: Treat others the way you wish to be treated.
Kindness is a form of currency that is frequently overlooked and undervalued. While it won’t buy you a new Lamborghini, kindness will afford you a larger social network, connectivity with your friends and family, forgiveness for your mistakes, and the ability to attract loyalty and respect.
Approach yourself and others with respect and honesty.
The secret to having solid relationships is to start with a foundation of respect. And the secret to respecting others is to respect yourself first.
When coming from a place of respect and authenticity, it’s not self-centered to express your opinions, acknowledge your needs, and have a strong belief in yourself. A healthy level of self-awareness and self-worth, in turn, makes it easier for you to have more honest, thoughtful interactions with those around you. Integrity is a byproduct of respect and, of course, trust is a key ingredient in successful relationships.
Doing the work to enhance your personal and professional relationships is a rewarding process, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Start incorporating these strategies in your daily life and, with time, you’ll see new relationships form and existing ones flourish.
To your Game Changing Success,