Improve My Relationships

It may seem obvious but relationships also help you to get ahead in this world. I am referring to not only your relationships with your service providers, clients, customers, co-workers etc., but also your connection with your spouse or significant other and family.  If one of your goals is to: "Improve My Relationships" then this will be of interest to you.

I have read somewhere that at least statistically speaking, having strong relationships at home is a great contributor to achieving overall success in life but I can't find the reference right now. If I come across it, I'll put it in but for now - I am comfortable just stating this as an obvious fact. Here is why.

When we have strong relationships at home, we feel loved, accepted and a part of something beyond ourselves. This means we don't have to look for these fundamental needs at work which reduces our internal stress considerably. Often people try to be someone they are not at work in order to "fit in" or "be liked" or whatever. This is very stressful and unproductive behavior. Having these needs addressed at home means being more of who you truly are at work and this absolutely contributes to your success.

Secondly, we are more likely to take reasonable risks when we have a strong relationship at home. We feel more confident and supported and so feel more comfortable in stepping out when appropriate. Taking risks is really a fundamental requirement for getting ahead.

Thirdly, a strong relationship on the home front means that we can relax and enjoy our "down time". Our home becomes a sanctuary for reflection and peace while giving us the opportunity to re-energize. Sometimes our partner can offer us nothing more than a sympathetic ear and quite often, that is all that is required! We just need to get something off our chest or out of our system and speaking it out loud to someone we feel comfortable with is the perfect solution.

So - if you want to get ahead and live a vital and exciting life - by all means, spend some time focusing on growing powerful relationships with those you love. To do that - I recommend two things. Building trust and communicating your affection. Below are some approaches to do both those things.

Building Trust in Relationships

I am not going to spend too much time on the trust element in relationships because to me this is pretty obvious. Trust flows from integrity. If you have high integrity, you will garner a high degree of trust.  I also want to note however, that trust once established can easily be washed away by betrayal or an action that is seen to be out of integrity.

Consider the trust that arises from these attributes: (replace he with she as appropriate):

  • Predictability - He is always the same person regardless of the situation.
  • Responsibility - He lives up to his commitments and when he doesn't or can't, then he communicates this well in advance.
  • Accountability - He admits when he is wrong, or at fault and is comfortable in apologizing and making amends.
  • Openness - He communicates his truth and listens to the truth of others.
  • Honesty - He doesn't lie or break his promises.
  • Rationality - He deals with adversity with calm reflection and meaningful intervention.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I think all relationships of meaning have a foundation in trust and the list above is a good start to building trust with someone else.

Building trust in the corporate or organizational world is also important and the best book I have come across in this critical area is one called "The Speed of Trust" by Stephen Covey. Covey's model suggests that trust is created around two elements namely Competence and Character.

These two elements are further broken down into what he calls the Four Cores of Credibility. Character is divided into both Integrity and Intent while Competence is broken into Capabilities and Results. This is a very powerful framework for building trust in the work place.

One of the elements I will expand upon briefly is "Capabilities" because one thing many people fail to do is communicate their capabilities to others in an appropriate way.

This is due in part because of humility and a wish not to be seen as a braggart however, this "false humility" can also detract from building trust in relationships. Now I am not suggesting that you tell everyone how wonderful you are whenever you meet someone new. This would be a bit over the top by anyone standards. I am suggesting however that it is entirely appropriate to introduce yourself by profession, experience, position or some other attribute that truthfully indicates something of your accomplishments. This is nothing more than simply and honestly informing people of your capabilities.

You see this being done all the time when speakers are introduced. Why? To build credibility and grow trust. If you don't trust the speaker, you will take nothing of value away from his or her speech. Therefore, the Master of Ceremonies will usually go to some lengths to describe "why" you should pay attention to the person he is introducing.

This is a great skill to master - being honest and open without being a braggart. People will feel comfortable in knowing who you are when they meet you.

Communication and Relationships

Okay this is a big one. The first thing I want to share with you is a book called: "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman as the concept in this book has saved or improved a number of the important relationships in my life. Like a lot of great concepts, this approach is not rocket science and that makes it all the more easy to apply and benefit from.

The contention in the book is that people do not "hear" affection in the same way and as a result, over time (especially past the so called honeymoon period), love starts to fade and the consequences are usually not good.

The challenge occurs when one partner or individual in the relationship demonstrates his or her affection one way and the recipient, another way. There is an incompatibility in their love languages so even though they both may believe that they are communicating their affection towards the other person on a regular basis, the intended recipient is not getting the message!

Chapman identifies five "Love Languages" in his book and with some experimentation, conversation and questioning, you can learn what language you need to use to convey your affection towards the other person. The obvious benefit here is that they too will learn the same for you.

So what are the Five Love Languages? Quite simply they are:

  • Words of Affirmation - "That was a great dinner".
  • Quality Time - spending attentive time together
  • Receiving Gifts - this is one of the most obviously assumed ones largely supported by marketing efforts. However, buying her that expensive ring may mean very little to her!
  • Acts of Service - the little things that show you care.
  • Physical Touch - includes sex but also holding hands, back massages etc.

Now there is a key point here and that is - don't worry too much about finding out "the" language. You can use all five on a regular basis and you will not go wrong!

As a personal example, my mother clearly had "Receiving Gifts" as her love language. She was always giving us things as children and even adults. It gave her great pleasure to both give and receive gifts. It is only now in retrospect and having read the book that I see this so clearly and had I known, I might have taken a little extra care in making sure I gave my mother gifts to celebrate special occasions. This raises another great point. If you aren't sure what someone's preferred love language is, notice how they demonstrate affection and you'll have a great clue.

The Five Love Languages At Work

I don't know if Gary Chapman ever intended his Love Languages framework to be used at work but I think it can be quite easily adapted although obviously some caution is in order.

Consider some of these scenarios. The boss invites you out for dinner or a golf game. Your reaction may well be - "what is this all about?" In truth, it could well be him demonstrating his "appreciation" for you by wanting to spend some "Quality Time" with you. Now if instead, he gives you a gift certificate to take you and your spouse out to dinner - then this could be a demonstration of his "appreciation" using the "Receiving Gifts" language. Isn't this worth knowing? Consider how you might use this knowledge to express your appreciation for him and his work.

Another common love language at work is the "Acts of Service" language and this often manifests itself as going above and beyond the call of duty. This can be as straight forward as giving your boss a draft report a few weeks early so he has a lot of time to do a thorough review, instead of working on it right up until the due date. I have also seen very astute employees provide their bosses with "heads up" notices or briefing notes before an important meeting, not because they have been asked to do so, but because they thought their boss would benefit from this sort of "act of service". Again, it is important to see how your boss recognizes others as this will give you a great clue on how to build rapport and a powerful relationship with him or her.

Words of Affirmation is often a "standard" love language at work although I still hold the belief that it is still grossly under utilized. However, any time your boss phrases statements such as: "You are a great salesperson", or "You have great courage", these are words of affirmation. Notice that this is a bit different than the standard "good job" nonsense that we hear so often. I view this as praising the work more than the individual so look for the "You Are..." language as an indication that the words are true "Words of Affirmation".

The "Receiving Gifts" love language is also often seen at places of work when tokens of appreciation are handed out. For example, after the completion of a challenging project, quite often the company will give the team responsible some wall plaque or Plexiglas do-dad to celebrate the accomplishment. Now this is one "love language" applied universally so it is interesting to note, who responds very positively to this "gifting" and who doesn't. One clue is where the trophy ends up. People who indicate their appreciation through gifting are far more likely to treasure the gift and thus have it proudly displayed in their office or workspace. Those that don't have "Gifting" as their primary love language will likely have it in a box or desk drawer somewhere isn't all that meaningful to them. Some other language may have resonated more strongly for that individual.

Physical touch is a tough one in the office environment and should be approached with caution. However, there is one very clear and obvious way of touching people at work that should not get you into any trouble, and that is the handshake. This is a simple (and professional) act that can really provide a strong connection for people with "Physical Touch" as a primary love language. Again, sometimes experimenting with this is the best option. If shaking someone's hand in thanks seems weird, it is probably because it isn't working for the other person.

Now consider the previously mentioned team congratulations meeting and how you might structure it to ensure everyone feels appreciated. Try this on for size:

  • Get everyone together for an acknowledgement celebration. (Quality Time)
  • Make sure you have a few words of affirmation for each of the contributors using the "You are..." approach. (Words of Affirmation)
  • Give everyone a small token of appreciation. (Receiving Gifts)
  • Shake everyone's hand during the presentation of the gift. (Physical Touch)
  • Introduce each of the contributors to a higher level authority. (Act of Service)

Chances are, if you do all five of these things, everyone will leave the presentation feeling truly appreciated for the work they have done and...they will appreciate you for the acknowledgement!

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