How do you strengthen the bond and the quality of your relationships?
As an expert in the field of psychology, equipping people in the areas of all things relationship and performance effectiveness, I routinely ask my patients what they want me to help them to improve. The overwhelming majority of them respond that they want to be closer to the people in their personal and professional lives… they want more “glue” in their relationships.
It is remarkable that most everyone wants the same thing, yet rarely are they equipped or skilled in strengthening the bond and quality of their relationships.
These are my suggestions that I highly encourage you to put into practice:
- Give Them Attention. Make It About Them (more than about you).
a. How much do people want attention? A lot!
Starting in elementary school and throughout the rest of their lives, people want: attention, love, reinforcement, connection, respect, support, understanding, forgiveness, compassion, and glue.
Regardless of whether they feel undeserving of all that attention, generally everyone wants the attention and they feel emotionally malnourished if they fail to get it. We are a species that requires connection and closeness with others.
The most common psychological issue we experience is depression. The biggest contributor to that issue is loneliness. We do very poorly when we are alone, disconnected, and isolated.
One of the reasons that so many people like dogs is because the connection and glue they receive from their dog. It helps them feel connected and loved. Dogs seem to understand and practice the concept of unconditional love… something we all need from others.
b. Who is everyone’s favorite subject? It’s them, of course!
If everyone is their own favorite subject and you want to improve the glue with others, then what makes more sense?
Make the relationship about you?
Make the relationship about them?
Make the relationship about them! Of course!
However, before you begin feeling concerned that you are being left out, memorize this principle, “I become more interesting when I am interested.”
When you make it about them, you are feeding their need to feel important and are focusing on their favorite subject. They get their foundation need satisfied and they start to like you because you are helping them to get fed. They will think you are wonderful because you are giving them attention, and they will want to return the favor and begin to focus on you in return.
YOU BECOME MORE INTERESTING WHEN YOU ARE INTERESTED!
You have just improved the glue between you.
c. What is the biggest need that people have in their lives beyond survival? The biggest need beyond survival is to feel important. (Dale Carnegie: 1936 How to Win Friends & Influence People.)
It is very satisfying when we are recognized, appreciated, and treated with respect. Feeling important is something we all wish we experienced more often.
- Continually Reinforce Them. People Need to be Fed.
Think about what nourishes and encourages you to produce and perform well. Usually it is about others being impressed, dazzled, and proud of you. You are driven to do well because of your own self-concept, values, and the regard, respect, and reinforcement that you receive from others.
In most relationships there usually three ways in which you learn how you are doing in the minds of others:
- Criticism, pejorative remarks, “constructive criticism”
- Silence, absence of any reaction, indifference
- Reinforcement, encouragement, compliments, appreciation
Most of the time people receive lots of criticism and silence. Sometimes when you get silence, you will say to yourself, “No news is good news!” Most people end up emotionally malnourished. They eventually run out of inspiration and emotional reserves to keep producing at high levels.
Remember this, if someone is behaving in a way that you appreciate, and are impressed, reinforce that behavior. You are likely to receive more of that behavior!
Many of us believe this and yet, often we practice reinforcement on only two populations: small children and dogs. If it works with them, will it work with grown-ups? Of course!
Perhaps the most well-known researcher on relationship effectiveness is Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington. He has spent many years studying methods to improve marriage quality and has concluded that you must have a 5:1 ratio between reinforcement and criticism.
The conclusion? Routinely catch someone doing something right!
And be sure to slather it on! This will take some practice because we have established long habits of criticizing, discounting, diminishing, invalidating, and remaining silent in most of our grown-up relationships.
When you reinforce them more than you criticize, you will:
- Give them attention
- Focus on their favorite subject
- Feed their need to feel important
- Help them to find their smile again
- Improve the glue between them
- Offer Acceptance, Support, and Understanding.
Sometimes people simply want to talk about it without any real desire to do anything about it.
When you offer up unsolicited advice, most people will recoil and want to stop talking. So before you offer up advice or suggestions, find out if they want them.
If no, then be sure to offer acceptance, support, and understanding. When you do, they will feel:
- Appreciative of the time to talk
- Important and fed
And the glue gets improved!
- Ask for Help When You Need It.
There are times when you would also like more glue from them. You want:
- To get some attention
- To be heard and understood
- Some Guidance
- To be appreciated and respected
- More reinforcement
- To feel important
- To talk about you (your favorite subject)
If you have already built some glue between you, then you have certainly earned the right to receive some of the very glue that you have built.
You must ask for help from them! Many of us have real difficulty in asking for help. We like to offer our help and yet we are uncomfortable asking for it.
Remember the following axioms:
- When you offer help to others, they will often say “No.”
- When you ask for help, they will usually say “Yes.”
They say yes because your asking for help feeds their need to feel important.
So when you have built glue and you practice these suggestions to build more, you can reap great returns from them asking for your help. The glue gets stronger!
Use these phrases:
- “I need your help.”
- “I wonder if you can help me.”
- “I need some advice.”
- “Help me understand…”
- Do the Ongoing Maintenance to Keep the Glue Strong. Any relationship requires maintenance to keep it healthy and strong.
One of the dumbest things we do with marriage is we are on our best behavior during the courtship. We look our best, smell terrific, are polite, responsive, and regularly reinforce one another. Then we have the wedding; shortly thereafter we abandon the courtship and wonder why the marriage begins to stagnate.
So what are the foundational requirements to keep up the maintenance with anyone with whom we have built the glue? How do we keep improving it?
- Make the first move. Continue to take initiative to connect with them.
- Check in with them on a regular basis. Practice frequent short visits.
- Make it about them and give them attention.
- Remember, it’s about their favorite subject: them.
- You become more interesting when you are interested.
- Offer more reinforcement than criticism or silence.
- The biggest need that people have to be met is to feel important. Therefore, feed that need.
- Offer more support, acceptance, and understanding.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Keep doing the maintenance to continually improve the glue.