There’s no doubt about it: relationships are important in every aspect of our lives. From our relations with family to our interactions with clients and everything in between, nearly everything we do is related to the people in our lives. Relationships drive us, sustain us, and comfort us, and nearly all of the moment-by-moment details of our day can be traced back to relationships.
Unfortunately, however, it’s easy to forget the importance of our relationships and neglect to maintain them the way we should. The responsibilities and stress that come with life flood our relationships and we tend to muddle through them. We neglect to care for the connections that matter most and forget how important they are for our own happiness and success.
Why should we settle for average (or below average) relationships when it’s easily possible to maintain meaningful, long-lasting relationships?
Let’s take a look at 3 simple skills that can help you to improve absolutely any relationship based on Susie Miller’s groundbreaking book Listen, Learn, Love: How to Dramatically Improve Your Relationships in 30 Days or Less. We will then break down each skill into several easy tips that can help you to improve your professional relationships starting today.
While this may sound like a familiar and cliché no-brainer, you would be surprised by how much we really don’t listen to one another. While we may hear the words that other people are saying, the message is often lost because we’re too distracted by other thoughts or are already thinking of our response. True listening requires focus, attention, and pausing long enough to really absorb what someone else is communicating.
Let’s look at some of the ways to effectively use this skill.
How to Listen Well
- Pause before responding to let what the other person says really sink in. Meanwhile, try not to think of what you’ll say to respond, but what the other person really means. This is especially important during tense or conflicted conversations. Resist the urge to offer a quick defense or explanation. Be patient.
- Don’t forget that over 60% of communication is nonverbal body language and 30% of communication is tone of voice. While listening, pay attention to nonverbal cues and tone, which is where the real message lies. Listen with both your eyes and ears.
- Ask questions for more clarity and to demonstrate that you’ve understood correctly. Validate the other person’s message and feelings in order to show that you understand what he/she is feeling and why. Ask for clarification or more details when needed.
- Engage in reflective thinking. This involves replying with your understanding of the message. “What I believe you’re saying is…” is a good way to begin, for example. This is a great practice to make sure that you’ve accurately understood their message.
- Validate feelings. Instead of trying to talk others out of their feelings or to help them change them, recognize that feelings exist and that there is a good reason for them. This is an excellent way of showing you care that will strengthen any relationship.
- Learn to say “I’m sorry.” As cliché as this may sound, the words “I’m sorry” are some of the most powerful in any language. These words can change everything and help reduce tension, shift perspectives, and deepen a connection.
- If apologizing to someone else feels difficult for you, ask yourself: “Is being right more important than this relationship?” The answer should always be “no.”
- Don’t deny any uncomfortable truths. Denial will only make it worse and add unwanted tension to the conversation and – consequently – your relationship. Instead, accept the fact that the other person is struggling, listen to what they are saying, and validate their feelings.
It’s amazing how little we really know about the people in our lives. Sure, we may know all the basic, surface-level details, but we probably don’t know much about their real feelings, strengths, weaknesses, frustrations, ambitions and opinions. These are the things that truly matter. Learning a person involves understanding their ways, preferences, expressions, moods…it’s about discovering everything that’s essential to a person, their story, and what makes them unique.
How to Learn a Person
- Go on a learning “treasure hunt.” Study, observe, and pay attention to any clues that may reveal more than just surface information about a person.
- Take note of any patterns. Maybe your co-worker is more short-tempered on Wednesdays, which just happens to be the busiest day of sales calls at the office. Use this observation to help make his life easier by offering to lend a hand with other tasks, listening to him and providing a fun conversation at lunch, or even treating him to a cup of coffee, for example.
- Seek out stories to learn some of the most essential information about a person. Not only do they provide interesting insights into a person’s past, they can also help you determine some of their strengths, weaknesses, goals, regrets, etc.
- Feel free to even take notes about what you learn. You can jot down everything from a birthday to preferences and ambitions. Use this information to communicate your care and investment in the relationship.
- Learn their language. Don’t worry; this doesn’t require French classes or improving your English…Learning a person’s language in reality means learning the way they best give and receive care or appreciation. Do they like gifts or prefer a compliment, favor, or simply some quality time? Use this knowledge to better express your care or appreciation, which, of course, will positively impact the relationship.
- Use your knowledge of a person’s preferences to help predict what will brighten their day or improve their mood.
While the word “love” might sound a little out of place in the business world, it’s a crucial part of creating lasting, meaningful professional relationships. Don’t think of it as a romantic love, but as a sacrificial love that implies profound caring. It’s all about choosing to put another person first, even when this may be uncomfortable or difficult for us. It implies taking on short-term sacrifice for long-term gain. It’s not just loving, but loving well. While this may be the most nuanced of these three skills, there are still some great tips to put it into practice:
How to Love Well
- Put the knowledge you gained from listening and learning about others to good use by helping them in any way that you can. This may mean recommending a lower-priced package to a client based on their budget even though you’re trying to make a sales goal. However, this honesty will create genuine trust, integrity, and clients that stick with your business through thick and thin.
- Strive to put others’ needs – whether they be coworkers, employees or costumers – before your own when making decisions. Consider the implications of your decisions and who they will benefit more. If you stand to profit more than the others involved, consider revising your decision in a way that suits the best interest of others, even if that means you will profit less.
- Be aware of how your own attitude, beliefs, opinions and mood may impact your decisions. Be honest with yourself about what will get in your way when trying to put others’ needs first. Don’t be afraid to step back and take care of yourself before dedicating your energy towards others.
- Be willing to take the blame, be inconvenienced, and/or bear someone else’s burden. This short discomfort will pay off with high-quality long-term relationships.
- Loving well is based on commitment, not emotions. Push through those tough days, listen, learn and smile even though you’re exhausted. Always remember that a little bit of sacrifice will help ensure the success of your relationships.
- It’s all about value and appreciation. As often as possible, take the time to ask yourself: How can I add value and show my appreciation to my client, costumer, and/or colleague?
- Always remember that the quality of your relationship is far more valuable in the long term that any temporary inconvenience you may experience. A good relationship is worth some sacrifice.
Relationships are in integral part of our lives that can help determine our success and provide us with support when we need it most. We all long for better, more gratifying relationships in every aspect of our life. By ensuring that all of our professional relationships are strong and healthy, we establish the foundation for a successful business built on trust, honesty and integrity.
Learning and practicing these three simple skills is the first step to creating better relationships, no matter what condition they are currently in. By listening to others, learning about them, and loving them well, you’re on the right track to meaningful, fulfilling, long-lasting relationships.