I have to admit, during the holidays, I’m a sucker for those cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies. The ones that portray loved ones gathered around a roaring fire or baking cookies in a warm home expressing warm fuzzy feelings to each other.
Ironically, I can’t help but notice the stark contrast of this image with today’s reality. Tune in to any major news channel and we become instantly bombarded with expressions of hate and violence that appear to now be more commonplace than rare exceptions. It’s no wonder our current culture has become pervaded by mistrust, skepticism, and suspicion.
Sadly, it appears we’ve surrendered to becoming divided and separate from one another. Which is ironic because we, as human beings, crave social connection and a deep basic need to be heard and understood.
As Brené Brown Ph.D., author of her latest bestseller, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, describes in this article, “we’re in a spiritual crisis:”
We’ve sorted ourselves into factions based on our politics and ideology. We’ve turned away from one another and toward blame and rage. We’re lonely and untethered. And scared. … If I had to identify one core variable that magnifies our compulsion to sort ourselves into factions while at the same time cutting ourselves off from real connection with other people, my answer would be fear. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of the pain of disconnection. Fear of criticism and failure. Fear of conflict. Fear of not measuring up. When we ignore fear and deny vulnerability, fear grows and metastasizes.
According to Brown, “the key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection:”
If we’re going to change what is happening in a meaningful way, we’re going to need to be intentionally with people who are different from us and learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.
And here’s something important to remember. Each and every one of us has the ability to make an impact each and every day. Whether we choose to make an inconsiderate comment or a kind gesture – we have the power in each moment to choose connection.
So, what exactly can we do to create and sustain close satisfying relationships? Not only with the people who matter most to us – our spouses, kids, and extended family members, employees, bosses, business partners, and colleagues – but with anyone, at any time, anywhere?
Based on my decades-long experience in negotiation, advocacy, and mediation, and intensive study of human behavior and interpersonal communication, what became crystal clear is this. We create and maintain close interpersonal relationships by really listening to where others are coming from and being intentional about what we’re really trying to say.
The importance of effective communication cannot be overstated. It determines the success of the outcome. It can make or break a relationship in an instant. It can be used to persuade, empathize, advocate, negotiate, inspire – but only when combined with effective listening and learning the other person’s point of view.
Here are 4 ways to set the stage now for successful relationships in the New Year and coming decade:
1. Just Do It.
Begin to notice the things you admire or appreciate about the important people in your life. And here comes the scary part. Take a deep breath and tell them specifically what you admire or appreciate. So many times, we leave things unsaid because “it’s easier” than the unknown reaction. Yet these very things that have the power to dramatically transform a relationship. Here are some examples that might get you started.
2. Don’t Assume.
Our natural instinct is to assume another person’s intentions and motivations. I’m certainly guilty of this. I’ve often believed it was the other person who was wrong.
But I like to use a saying I once heard on an episode of the old sitcom The Odd Couple (I’m dating myself now…). The one where Felix uses a whiteboard to show that when you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME. Instead, start by asking yourself “what don’t I know about his person’s motivation, intention, reasoning, and feelings?”
3. Really listen.
“Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.” — Alan Alda.
All humans have a deep, primal need to be heard and understood. When we can listen with a willingness to be changed by what we hear, our relationships will become dramatically stronger.
In a conversation, when I start to notice my own biases and judgments showing up, I’ve learned to put on the brakes and remind myself to listen with the intent to learn and connect, rather than to blindly inform.
4. Communicate Intentionally.
Every word we say has significance. Likewise, every facial expression, gesture, body posture conveys a message. So, before responding, you might visualize as if you were the other person – what would you think and feel from that vantage point?
It also helps to match the other person’s speaking style and vocabulary. Take their lead on the words they use so your response arises naturally. Sync up your body language. For example, lean in, make eye contact, nod, and say “yes.”
When asking questions to learn where the other person is coming from, it’s generally best to use “how” and “what,” not “why.” The word “why” tends to immediately put the other person on the defensive with a need to justify their words and feelings.
When we start to communicate with a real understanding of another’s viewpoint, with genuine curiosity, respect and compassion, each and every relationship becomes stronger and more rewarding. And we can achieve any important outcome when we engage, inspire and connect powerfully with others.
Best of luck and I’d love to hear your feedback!
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Wishing you the very best of holidays and a Happy and healthy New Year!