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How to Tell If You Are Fostering Positive Relationships in Life

How to Tell If You Are Fostering Positive Relationships in Life

Creating friendships and relationships were much simpler when we were younger. It had more to do with who was in your proximity at that specific time in your life and sharing common experiences.

As we grow older, our paths begin to divert and we adjust to the rhythm which life is moving, and often times we find our relationships changing with it.

A huge part of life is cultivating relationships not only with family and friends, but in all aspects including romantic partners, work colleagues, and even within ourselves. As adults, it gets harder to keep up with our inner circles when we have a family to take care of, a career that’s developing, and living day to day. To foster positive relationships, you must first accept that sometimes certain relationships change, but fostering and maintaining the positive ones is how to achieve more in life.

Here are ways to check and see if you are cultivating positive relationships in all areas of your life by assessing and asking:

1. Assess Your Big Five

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn, once said,

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Instead of reflecting on just five, take it one step further by reflecting on the five people you spend the most time with in different areas of your life – personal, work, and family.

A great starting point is seeing how present you are in that very moment.

For example, you decide to grab coffee with a long-time friend whom you catch up every couple of months. During the conversation, do you find yourself checking your phone every five minutes or going through a list of things you could be doing instead? If so, it may be time to see how much value you’re getting from this particular relationship.

Some relationships overgrow one another throughout time, and that’s completely normal. As selfish it may sound, your time is just as valuable.

2. Listen to the Way You Converse with Others

Have you ever taken a moment to listen to how you carry conversations with your friends, family, partner, and most importantly – yourself? Sometimes we get caught up in storytelling, that we don’t pay much attention to the language that we’re using or how we’re using it.

  • Are you present and attentive when you’re having dinner with your family?
  • Are you on your phone when you’re having date night with your partner?
  • Do you spend your lunch breaks listening to workplace gossip?

Check-in with how you feel when these conversations are occurring. Part of fostering positive relationships means making sure you feel good when you have them because it’s the experience we feel on a daily basis that shapes our days ahead.

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If you notice that you’re surrounded by negativity, try distancing yourself with those or try shifting the conversation towards a different direction. If you’re noticing you are on your phone during family time, dive a little deeper and see what is capturing your attention and why.

Sometimes the answer lies not only where you are at that specific moment, but where your mind is.

3. Listen to How You Converse with Yourself

There are important conversations we have daily, but the most important ones are the conversations we have with ourselves. It may surprise you how we speak to ourselves compared to how we speak to others. Often times we’re harder, more unforgiving, and critical, which can affect the relationships we have with those around us.

Everyone goes through negative self-talk, but it comes down to how loud that voice becomes. There are great consequences that come from negative self-talk that then creates a poor self-image of ourselves. That image also affects our relationships.

  • “I’m not good enough to be with anyone and that’s why I’m single.”
  • “I’m not a decent friend and that why I never get invited anywhere.”
  • “I’m a horrible worker and that is the reason why I never get a promotion.”

Would these be things you tell a friend? Probably not. So why have these conversations with yourself? Your inner vibrations and feelings always flows outwards and is what attracts those to you.

4. Do We Share Core Values?

The older we get, it can get harder to make friends – good friends, too. When we were younger, the common bonding ground stemmed off favorite television shows and school sports. But as we continue to develop careers, have families, and expand our growth both mentally and physically, it may be hard to keep up with our inner circle, let alone ourselves.

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It’s not distance that keeps people and relationships apart, but the differences in core values. As humans, we seek mental company over physical company, and this becomes more prominent when we’re older.

Sharing core values go beyond having a friend who shares the common liking of eating at a particular restaurant or taking a spin class once a week together; it’s sharing that core value of wanting to put fitness and health as a priority or enjoying the challenge of committing to an activity.

Keep in mind that not all core values have to overlap. Having different values and ideas also foster positive relationships.

5. Invest in Friendships That Grow Through Life

I have a healthy long-distance friendship with my roommate from college because we make it a point to check-in often. Whether it’s a quick five minutes on Facetime or sending each other a picture that reminded us of that person, checking in even during life’s busiest days help bring bursts of energy throughout the day – especially for long distance relationships from opposite sides of the world.

So much has changed since college, but having that timeless relationship has created a stronger bond without forced catch-up sessions and guilty apologizing for not making enough time. It’s a mutual understanding that time has changed and growing with it rather than resisiting it.

6. Look into How You’re Feeling at Work

Having healthy and positive relationships with work colleagues is always ideal, but we all know this isn’t the case.

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First and foremost, ask yourself if you like what you are doing, better yet, if “you’re feeling good at work.”[1] Believe it or not, it all stems down to your emotions and the energy you give off that will either attract your coworkers to you or push them away from you. Would you want to invite Negative Nancy to coffee and listen to her complain about all her customers? Probably not.

Like every other aspect in life, you have to enjoy where you are spending 40 hours of your time and with whom. If you’re feeling good at work, you’ll feel more aligned and in tuned with those around you that lead to healthier relationships.

7. Treat a Relationship Like a Partnership

Your partner has probably seen the worst and the best parts of you – every part of you that makes you human. In all relationships, there are highs and lows. There are moments when the romance may feel fizzled or be caught up in knotted tension, and moments when euphoria takes over and the both of you are unstoppable.

A part of having a positive relationship means having healthy arguments . If you’re able to have a disagreement without yelling and screaming, while taking two steps back to figure out the problem together – then you’re on the right track. Here are some things to keep in mind during a heated argument:

  • Are you still putting your partner first even during disagreements?
  • Are you looking for a solution, rather than a safe way out?
  • Are you able to place your pride aside in the meantime?

Fostering a positive relationship means understanding the situation from the other person’s perspective, while coming up with a solution together.

Final Thoughts

The lessons we learn in our personal and professional lives reflect on how we communicate with others. It helps us grow, understand, and assess the value that we are bringing into all our relationships, and in return add value to those relationships. All it takes is a few moments of checking-in with others as well as yourself.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The New York Times: How Many Work Friends Do You Really Need?

More by this author

Akina Chargualaf

Akina Chargualaf is an entrepreneur, writer, and the content creator of travel and personal development blog Finding Fifth.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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