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Have you ever wished you were more of a people person? Maybe you've noticed times you unintentionally rub people the wrong way. Or perhaps you know people who seem to make friends effortlessly and can’t figure out their secret. Author Les Giblin once wrote, “If you will stop and think a minute, the chances are that you will say that the people you know who are the most successful, and enjoy life the most, are those who ‘have a way’ with other people.”
Cultivating relationships is something I've had to work at throughout my life. I've never considered myself one of those blessed people who others seem to flock toward. I’ve made lots of mistakes in relationships during my life, but have worked hard to learn how to treat people well. I’m no relational expert by any means, but here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way.
1. Value relationships.
One of the first keys to having healthy relationships is valuing those relationships. Make it a priority to nurture the relationships you have and build relationships with the people you meet. Relationships are work, and nothing will help you improve your relationships if you don’t see the value they can have in your life. When others hurt you, work on your relationship as something cherished. C.S. Lewis once wrote:
“Friendship is the greatest of worldly good. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’”
2. Remember the one interest we all share.
Relationships often form and grow around shared interests, and everyone is interested in themselves. Now I don’t mean they are self-interested in a selfish or narcissistic way. But all people like to talk about their own experiences and perspectives. When you start a relationship, take a special interest in the things people have done and the interests they have. As you look for shared interests, remember they are certainly somewhat interested in themselves. We all are.
3. Make people feel great about themselves.
Pay attention to the gifts and talents other people demonstrate, and find ways to encourage them. Praise their talents in public, and praise their talents in private. Show them you are rooting for them. Giblin wrote, “Men and women who have the most influence with other people are men and women who believe other people are important.” Show other people you think they are important.
4. Use your network to help people.
All people have needs from time to time. Whenever possible, use your own network to help and serve others. You may be able to nurture two relationships at once by connecting two people who can help each other. Maybe those two people should work together, be friends or even fall in love. Even if the connection doesn't amount to much, they will remember how you went out of your way to help them.
5. Seek to understand people, not to change people.
Relationships are much healthier when two people genuinely seek to understand each other. When conflict arises — as it always does — most people try to change the other person’s beliefs and behaviors to their own. Instead, first seek to understand what causes people to do the things they do. If we can listen and figure out the underlying cause of disagreements, the subsequent conversations will usually go much smoother.
6. Never ever attack someone’s ego.
This is a big one. There are times when other people will make mistakes or fail. Never make someone look bad or point out a flaw, especially in public. This can destroy a relationship with a single blow. If you ever have to point out a flaw, do so privately and let them save face. Let them know you assume the best and were surprised by their mistake. As Giblon put it, “Tell a man that his ideas are stupid, and he will defend them all the more… Use threats, or scare tactics, and he simply closes his mind against your ideas, regardless of how good they may be.” Many relationships might be spared if people learned not to criticize others. The criticism may even be warranted, but there are tactful ways to correct someone, ways which save and even build the relationship.
7. Avoid sarcasm and joking at someone’s expense.
This is a lesson I've had to learn and relearn. I can be a pretty sarcastic person at times. I love to laugh and make others laugh, and sometimes I use sarcasm. But I've learned to never make other people the target of sarcasm or joking. Most people play it off like they don’t care, but deep down no one wants to be the butt of the joke. If you have a sarcastic disposition like me, learn to never use sarcasm to threaten someone’s self-esteem. You can be funny without going after other people.
I regularly come back to these truisms and remind myself of both the work and reward of healthy relationships. I can hardly estimate the joy that people have brought into my life. As we value our relationships and work on them, we will certainly reap the rewards of life together.
What have you learned about treating other people well?
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I think number 5 is key when sharing I am sharing my faith with other people. Thank you for the reminder!
Note: These are also REALLY GOOD TOOLS for evangelism. :P People seem to forget 5. and the first 6. the moment they start talking about matters of faith. If you want people to really open up to you, respect you, and give a willing ear to what you believe, listen to them, respect them and don't insult those things they hold dear.
Also, not only use your network to help people, but go out of your way to help them yourself if you can, and be open to being used as a part of someone else's network to help a stranger. It will help you meet new people and make friends of acquaintances.
This list is great, a good reminder that no matter how good of friendships we have, there's always room for improvement.
For me I've found that admitting to my mistakes is huge. When I'm willing to mess up in front of people it takes away their need to be perfect in front of me. And maintaining an appearance of perfection takes away from any opportunity to truly get to know people.
I agree that those 7 keys are very important. I find myself most lacking in #1. I haven't put much time into maintaining and building relationships recently. Partly because of finals approaching and mostly because I have so much trouble keeping a conversation going with people I do not know well, and not being socially awkward. I think that I desperately need to read a book on conversation skills.
I've found one of the most important keys to good relationships is doing a great job taking care of myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When I don't take care of myself, I find myself expecting others to take care of all my needs, and then feeling disappointed or frustrated when they don't. For instance, it is hard for me to listen to people and empathize with them when I don't feel listened to or empathized with myself. But when I journal regularly or pray, then I feel listened to and don't feel the need to dump everything I am thinking and feeling unto a poor innocent bystander. Also, when I am not taking care of myself physically, it leaves me in a rotten mood and it is harder for me to be friendly and engaged.
Of course, I still have social needs that I cannot meet by myself, but after I take good care of myself, my mind is then free to focus on the needs of others instead of being stuck in survival mode. Ironically, I am more self-centered when I have been neglecting my self-care. It's the "Put your oxygen mask on first, then assist the person next to you" rule.
Another important principle that goes along with this is boundaries, and many of the 7 keys would fall under the category of boundaries.
Good points! I probably use #2 the most, and need to work on #1 the most. As an introvert, I think #2 sort of comes naturally though, so I can't take credit for it. It's easier to ask someone about their interests, because then I get to listen instead of talk! #1 is hard, especially with lots of long-distance friendships, because it usually means talking on the phone for extended periods of time (an introvert's worst nightmare). I do it though, because I value those relationships. I've found that doing mindless chores like folding laundry help me get through long phone conversations, because it feels more natural than just sitting with a phone to my ear.
It does seem like most books on conversation are written for extroverts....has anyone else noticed that? For example, they emphasize how to listen more, how to focus on what the other person is saying rather than what you want to say next, etc. I wonder if there are any books out there geared more for introverts? Sometimes it's just hard to fill those silences, especially when you don't know a person well and have run out of questions to ask!
Great post! Good stuff! :)
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