Like many people, I had a close and loving relationship with my grandmother growing up. My dad said due to the bond with my grandma, I expected to have good relationships with everyone. While he wasn’t completely right, there was a germ of truth in his observation. Generally, I do anticipate getting along with others. But it made me think — what goes in to having positive relationships?
Here are a few ways to improve your connections.
Express interest in others. How often have you gone to a social gathering and met someone who talked endlessly about themselves, but didn’t ask you one question about yourself? Sadly, it happens more often than I would like. When someone is naturally interested in other people, they ask a lot of questions — and they listen. They want to learn about you.
Avoid gossip. When I was a teenager, my mother used to say, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I hated when she said that, but now I understand her point. Sharing negative information about others doesn’t add to the social good. Is it really a necessary or useful comment? And then, of course, it makes the listener wonder if you’ll say bad things about them when they aren’t around.
Don’t complain. When I was a boy, my older brothers and I spent many weekends camping, hiking and canoeing. In the winters, we went skiing together. We were very close and looked forward to our trips together. We had a rule — no complaining — about being cold, hot, hungry, tired or uncomfortable. It was OK to ask for help. But whining wasn’t allowed. It’s something that I have tried to follow over the years.
Be optimistic and positive. Is your glass half empty or half full? Do you always need more? What’s enough? Or do you never have enough? Appreciating what you have is a positive attribute. That doesn’t mean you have to be always looking for the pie in the sky.
Don’t blame or criticize others. Life can go upside down. We all make mistakes. It’s easy to trip on your own feet or put your foot in your mouth. Blame fosters shame — who needs that? Generosity of spirit is always appreciated by others.
Have integrity. Is your talk and your walk consistent with each other? That’s the real meaning of integrity. Honesty doesn’t mean that you always say everything that runs through your head. But it does mean that whatever you do say is true.
Acknowledge other people’s accomplishments. I love when parents tell their kids, “Good job!” Children (and adults) eat up “atta-boys” and “atta-girls.” We all like to be acknowledged, for good deeds small and large. Make a point of looking for good deeds to recognize.
Don’t give unsolicited advice. I am learning, as Grandpa Paul, to keep my observations to myself. Of course, my kids don’t mind if I tell them how wonderful their children are. But if they want my parenting advice, they can read my column.
Cultivate humility. My aikido martial arts teacher is a sixth-degree black belt and can do amazing things. But she never shows off. Sure, she can be pretty tough on her serious students. And when she demonstrates an art, she moves beautifully. I have always admired her humility, especially since when I taught aikido, I did sometimes like to show the younger folks what I could do.
Admit when you’re wrong and apologize. It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong, made a misstep or were insensitive. Taking responsibility for yourself and acknowledging your mistakes is a healthy trait. It demonstrates self-awareness —qualities we all appreciate.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.