If you want to be successful in life, you need to have healthy relationships. Research has found that healthy relationships can reduce stress, encourage healthy behaviors, and give you a stronger sense of purpose. In other words, relationships play a leading role in your health and well-being.
But it takes a little elbow grease to nourish and maintain meaningful relationships, especially when you’re social distancing. Thankfully, you can achieve that goal by adopting 10 habits.
- Prioritize one-on-one time with the people you care about.
Between work and your personal commitments, it can be difficult to spend quality one-on-one time with your family, friends, or colleagues. Even if you’re hanging out with them, your attention may be split by what’s on your phone or TV.
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However, making one-on-one time a priority is the best way to improve your relationships — it can create a more positive and collaborative environment. That’s because it shows that you genuinely care about the other person by investing in getting to know him or her better. By exploring common interests, you can also find ways to help.
I know that time is in short supply, but you can make this possible by blocking out quality time. For example, invite an employee to join you for lunch (virtual or otherwise). When you’re taking a break, check in with your team members. Call or video chat with a friend or family member when you’re folding laundry or going on a walk.
- Improve your communication skills.
Strong communication skills, which include both verbal and nonverbal cues, are essential for any relationship. They bring people closer together and prevent misunderstandings. But stronger communication is only possible when you actively listen to others, meaning you give them 100 percent of your attention. Ask open-ended questions, and get comfortable with giving and receiving feedback. These are great ways to train your ability to read cues.
- Don’t assume; ask.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions. But doing so without having all of the facts can lead to anger, jealousy, and resentment. Ask questions when you aren’t sure about the details. If you don’t understand how one thing led to another, find nonjudgmental ways to ask questions about the cause-and-effect relationship. Give people the benefit of the doubt to see your relationships strengthen.
- Promote positivity.
Did you know that positivity is contagious? In fact, researchers at the Santa Fe Institute found that beneficial epidemics, like behavior and ideas, spread more quickly than harmful ones. It’s also been found that the key to healthy and happy marriages is focusing on the positive.
That doesn’t translate to sweeping disagreements under the rug. Double down on positivity by celebrating accomplishments, being supportive, and doing the things that you enjoy participating in together. For example, if you and your spouse enjoy cooking, make that a daily routine or sign up for a cooking class together. If your team is full of dog people, look into periodically hosting volunteer days at a local animal shelter.
- Practice the art of arguing.
No matter how positive you are in your relationships, there will be times when arguments and differing points of view happen. Instead of running away and avoiding these scuffles, address them sooner than later. Mainly, you want to do this to prevent bigger issues from bubbling up in the future. A Florida State University study showed that couples who expressed anger at the beginning of their relationship were happier over the long term.
Besides addressing issues early on, make sure you actually listen to and consider the other person’s point of view. Never use name-calling as a weapon, and don’t let the argument get too personal. You may need to cool down before having difficult conversations to prevent this from happening.
- Honor others’ dreams.
Chris Guillebeau writes that improving any relationship is pretty easy: Just honor the other person’s dreams. “Figure out what they want to do, to become, or achieve, and then help them do it,” recommends Guillebeau. “Don’t do it for them — it’s their dream, after all — but show interest and offer tangible support.”
Need help getting started? Ask your friend or colleague what he’s hoping to achieve and what obstacles he expects to encounter. You could also help him establish a timeline and frequently check in with him to see how he’s progressing. Your interest alone will speak volumes.
- Show your gratitude and appreciation.
Whether it’s acknowledging small things or celebrating major milestones, showing your gratitude and appreciation makes you happy and helps others feel valued. In turn, this will motivate the other person to keep contributing to the relationship.
Of course, a lot of us have difficulty making this a habit. Thankfully, Chester Elton, co-author of the book Leading with Gratitude, said in a previous interview with Forbes that you can do this by creating “triggers” as reminders. “One leader we know puts 10 pennies in his left pocket every day and sets a goal to have 10 positive interactions with his people every day, keeping track by moving one coin from his left pocket to his right pocket as he goes,” said Elton.
Others simply write handwritten notes or start meetings by asking about good things happening in others’ lives. Compliment great efforts as you see them. Pass along other compliments you’ve heard about your friends and co-workers; trust grows when people learn how positively others view them.
- Develop empathy.
There’s an expression that’s been attributed to Maya Angelou that I’ve found useful in life: “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” After all, empathy is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship, and it’s one of the most important leadership skills — it builds trust, fosters collaboration, enhances presence, and increases happiness.
How can you practice empathy? Well, getting to know people better, not rushing to judgment, and listening more and talking less all help. Even just asking someone how she’s doing when you notice she’s not herself can make a huge difference. Just remember to be genuine; don’t be afraid to get a little vulnerable.
- Remove toxic relationships from your life.
As we discussed, emotions are contagious. While positivity is more potent, there’s no denying that negativity can be exhausting and influence your mood. Just think about the times you’ve interacted with someone who talks down to you or spends your time together complaining. You’re not going to be in the best of moods, are you? While not intentional, you may take your frustrations out on others or find yourself too tired to engage with them.
Additionally, this takes away the time you could have spent with someone you have a more meaningful relationship with. When you’re feeling out of sorts, consider who you’ve been spending your time with lately. That may hold a clue to changes you need to make.
- Connect with your authentic self.
If you want to improve any important relationship in your life, make spending quality time with the person a priority. But you also need to make time for self-intimacy. “This is about making time to reflect on who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going,” explains Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D. It’s about acknowledging the fears and beliefs that hold you back.
Moreover, alone time gives you the opportunity to self-reflect. You can often see better how you show up in relationships when you have some distance from them. This also allows you to accept what’s true and determine how you want to operate from this moment forward.
If you’re crunched for time, review your schedule to see whether there are any open slots for some much-needed alone time. For example, if you have 30 minutes in between conference calls, take a short 15-minute walk by yourself or just sit quietly at your desk and journal. I’ve also gotten into the habit of waking up before the rest of my family so I have some solitude first thing in the morning.
Whether it’s with your friends, family, employees, or customers, it’s vital that you improve your relationships. Both you and the people you’re surrounded by need support; things can be hard and lonely without people backing you up. Besides being beneficial to your health and well-being, strengthened relationships will make you a more successful person, both personally and professionally.