Not so long ago I read a brilliant article on the American Psychology Today website about maintaining romantic relationships. What struck me was that the described behaviours would enrich any type of relationship –friendship, professional colleagueship, even interactions with grown-up children! These behaviours were recommended by psychologist Dr Randi Gunther. Let’s look at them and how we can use them to get along better with the people close to us.
Dr Gunter says she works with many couples who complain they have been unfairly treated in their relationship, citing inequities, double-standards, power-imbalances, manipulation, broken promises, and selfishness. But aren’t these also the causes of conflicts in friendships, with other family members and at work?
Dr Gunter says many of our disappointments step from misunderstandings with others. Sometimes people have made promises without thinking about the ramifications or have overlooked the other person’s needs or values – yes, this really does matter to them, it is a big issue.
Regardless of the type of relationship (personal or professional), if you are going to be fair then you want the other person to feel respected, to feel like they matter. That means you have to be open to listening. You have to authentically and pro-actively negotiate the terms of what each person wants or needs, making sure that they can talk openly about why they behaved or reacted as they did. Those respectful conversations create the foundation for fairness.
If you can’t have those conversations the friendship will not grow. If you can’t have a conversation with someone who let you down, then the person needs to remain as a friendly acquaintance rather than a true friend. The same is true of extended family and work colleagues. Seek some distance if people cannot be fair.
As people get to know each other better, they learn more about each other. The question is how much of yourself should you share with others.
Be cautious when dealing with work colleagues, new friends or family members who are emotionally inconsistent. As much as I love people I advise you to be slow when sharing past vulnerable experiences, thoughts, and feelings with others. Those admissions, confessions, and disclosures, once shared can’t be recaptured. Be very slow to trust. People are most open when they fall in love or really like a new friend. Exposing your secrets to another leaves you vulnerable during a conflict. People who have been given access to another’s inner world know what behaviours can wound.
If you have been privy to someone’s secrets be noble and keep these secrets. Never use them against the person, even if you are fighting. Throwing someone’s past back at them in a moment of heat can cause lasting damage to a relationship – be it romantic, platonic or professional. Remember to always be respectful, even if you feel the other person wasn’t.
3. Be chivalrous
In every relationship (marriage, friendship, work) you sometimes need to be the ‘big person’. There is going to be a time when the other person needs to be carried. Perhaps they are having a personal, romantic or financial disaster. It doesn’t matter, the point is they are not themselves and you need to step in and carry more of the load. That is being chivalrous. I’m not suggesting that you become the fall-guy or the martyr. This is not an ongoing state of affairs. You are just stepping up to fill a need.
Being chivalrous also means there is no expectation of being repaid or holding the other person in debt for your kindness. In strong personal and professional relationships, you know you can count on each other to be there when times are tough. Again, that is the sign of a strong relationship and if the other person can’t provide that, then realise it and again take a step back. Keep it at a personable or professional level, but not true friendship. If you are able to be stoic and step up when others fall down, great, but also be realistic in your expectations of them.
4. Respect others’ beliefs
As much as we have in common with our friends, the truth is there will always be points of difference. Having respect for other people’s beliefs is crucial to any quality relationship. Many people believe that good friends should agree on most things. If that is so, who will challenge you and how will you ever grow?
Even in quality friendships, there may be differences that get in the way. Listen, don’t judge, and explore your own biases and prejudices. Sometimes you need to respectfully agree to disagree but never laugh or mock someone else’s beliefs and values. When friends welcome and make room for other’s different thoughts and feelings, they grow personally and become more flexible.
5. Resilience and forgiveness
To become a happier person you need to focus on your blessings, look at the cup half-full, and let go of the little stuff. The truth is that all relationships (friendships, extended family connections and work encounters) have ups and downs. We have conflicts even with the people we love and can feel disconnected and distant from that person.
The trick is to resolve the conflict quickly and let go of the dispute. That is what resiliency is.
All relationships have competing percentages of positive and negative interactions. You do need to ask if you should continue a friendship that has a very high proportion of negative experiences. The fallout from too many damaging disputes undermines all the positives of the friendship.
Strong friends know how important it is to reconnect after a disagreement then work hard to put it behind them as quickly as possible.
6. Give to the friendship
Good friends balance their own needs with loyalty to the friendship. They don’t stand their friend up or cancel at the last minute because they are tired or over-committed. They respect the thoughts and feelings of the other person. In order for any emotional connection to thrive, both people must agree as to what behaviours are ethical and moral. Are white lies okay or do you prefer total honesty? Does each person get enough time to talk about themselves or is one person always the taker and the other must give? Remember you need balance.
7. Look after you
In no functioning relationship, should you put up with someone’s self-destructive behaviour. You may think you are helping a friend by excusing their bad behaviour or taking responsibility for it, but you are actually enabling them to continue with a nasty habit or addiction. It is especially difficult for a friend to help when he or she is directly affected by the poor behaviour. It is vital that you protect yourself, even if it means letting go of the person you want to help.
It is too easy to grumble about other people. Our co-workers are annoying, our friends don’t make the effort to see us, our spouse is selfish, etc. But have you been entirely faultless? If the relationship is bad, how did you contribute to making it bad? What can YOU do, to make it better? How can you be a better person? If some of your relationships are failing before apportioning blame, spend some time examining your feelings and reactions and see if you can better demonstrate fairness, respect, chivalry, forgiveness and resilience. After all, it takes two to tango on the dancefloor and in a friendship!
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.