It’s a strange world we live in. In some ways, our relationships are stronger than ever, thanks in large part to technology. In other ways, we are more disconnected from each other than we’ve ever been (at least partially due, ironically, to the ways we use technology).
Whatever the state of our relationships, it never hurts to reinforce them. After all, they are the primary means for creating circles of care, affecting change, and ushering joy into the world. I’ve developed a list of ten ways to strengthen relationships in this still-young year. They can be applied to individual bonds, teamwork, and our walk with God.
Deepen trust. Without authentic trust, relationships will always stay at a surface level. What small risk are you willing to take to show the real you? How might you invite others to do the same?
Add a layer of communication. We generally believe we’ve been heard better than we actually have been. How can you relay important information in an additional, different way so that everyone is operating from a shared understanding?
Share stories. Narrative is the root and food of knowing and being known. It prompts people to laugh, mourn, and plot together. What anecdote or arc speaks to where you are or how you’re feeling today? Who needs to hear it? Whose stories do you want to seek out?
Reflect on the relationship. Ok, it’s awkward, but it never hurts to ask for feedback on how the relationship is going. What’s working (and not) for him/her? For you? Disconnects can’t be repaired if they aren’t identified.
Embrace conflict. Conflict is simply a difference of opinion. It doesn’t have to come with all the baggage we tend to load onto it. Being forthright – in respectful ways – about our disagreements allows us to learn, and our openness to one another in moments of dissent breeds trust.
Help one another be fully engaged in the relationship. Everyone’s personality is different. As an extreme introvert, for example, I need lots of alone time to be fully present with people. Know and own your quirks, and support others in theirs.
Examen each day. Engage in some sort of reflection at the end of each day. How was I a good friend? How did I fall short? Utilizing the spiritual practice of examen opens up the possibilities even more. Where did I notice God at work today? How did I aid in or hinder the in-breaking of God’s peace?
Increase your curiosity. Instead of imagining someone’s beliefs or motives, ask: tell me what you were thinking when… What did you hope to accomplish by…? We usually default to assuming the worst, and often the truth is better (or at least more complex) than what we thought.
Start from common values or vision. Consider what all parties can affirm. Even if there are differing ideas about how to approach problems, there can be shared commitments underlying them. That’s a much more promising starting point for connection and for change.
Affirm one another. Name what you appreciate in one another. Be specific, and focus on attitudes and actions rather than appearance. Not only does a genuine compliment provide a serotonin boost, it also helps people identify and navigate from their strengths.
Which of these ideas could you begin implementing today? What would you add to this list?