At Cross Timbers when you hear us talk about “someone to know” we are talking about developing relationships that matter (or RTMs). Developing relationships that matter is a high priority at Cross Timbers because we know that having healthy relationships matters. It matters for your benefit and the benefit of the other person. Research tell us the number one predictor of a longer, healthier, happier life is positive relationships. That alone is a great reason to want to cultivate better relationships.

You may be thinking that’s great but, how?

You are not alone, I’ve had the same question. About 5 years ago, while obtaining my Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy, I was introduced to the Gottman Method, which answered this question for me. Below are a few of the principles I began cultivating into my own marriage and relationships with family and friends. It’s making a difference (in me). Hopefully, in these principles you’ll find a couple of nuggets that will help you strengthen the skills you need to build better relationships.

Develop Attributes of Empathy, Respect and Genuineness

When we cultivate the attributes of empathy, respect and genuineness into our mind and heart we create space for the person with whom we want a better relationship. When we embrace empathy, we are able to see the world as others see it. When we embrace respect, we are nonjudgmental of another person’s situation. We set aside our own opinions and biases for the purpose of understanding a fellow human being. When we embrace genuineness, we are able to simultaneously be in touch with our own thoughts, feelings, beliefs and needs, while connecting and communicating honestly with the other person. Don’t worry. The following gives you some exercises to strengthen these attributes.

Cultivate Fondness, Admiration and Appreciation

Remembering one’s positive qualities strengthens the relationship bond and helps you maintain a sense of respect, especially when there are differences to be resolved (keep in mind, all relationships have conflict). There are several ways to cultivate fondness and admiration, here are a couple of suggestions.

1. Develop the habit of noticing the other person’s positive qualities, strengths, and characteristics, jot them down along with an example of when you noticed it and tell them.

2. Create memories with the person. Find a common interest and do something fun together; or do something that would be meaningful for them.

3. Ask open-ended questions for the purpose of getting to know them. Ask something significant like – “If you could change anything about the world, what would it be?”

Become A Great Listener

Trust is woven into our relationships when we are great listeners!

  1. A great listener shifts the focus away from his/her self.
  2. A great listener is not trying to be interesting but is genuinely interested in the other person.
  3. A great listener tries to see the world through the other person’s perspective (even when they don’t agree).
  4. A great listener asks open ended questions (not questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”).
  5. A great listener avoids giving advice or fixing.
  6. A great listener communicates respect (is not critical, judgmental, defensive or superior).
  7. A great listener is self-aware, and practices deep breathing to manage and soothe strong emotions.
  8. A great listener reflects back understanding and meaning of what the person is expressing.
  9. A great listener responds with empathy.

Develop Skills to Build Better Relationships Through Conflict

Because conflict is a given in all relationships, it’s important to learn how to manage conflict and develop the skills necessary to build better relationships through conflict. I’m still working on this one.

Timing is everything

If you need to discuss a hot-topic set aside time for the conversation, allow the other person to plan for it too. As they are leaving your company or upon their arrival is not a good time. Popping-in or interrupting is not good timing either. A better way is to communicate to the person there is something you need to talk about with them and ask them when they have time to talk. Let them know about how long the conversation will take. This puts boundaries around the conversation so that you can stay focused and to the point and puts them at ease. Put it on your calendar and follow up.

Soften the start-up

The first 20 seconds of the conversation will determine how the conversation ends. A soft start-up helps to ensure the conversation will end well. A soft start-up, complains but does not blame, criticize or judge. It sounds like “Hey, there’s poop all over the backyard. We agreed you’d clean up after the dog.” In contrast, a harsh start up sounds like, “Hey, there’s poop all over the backyard. This is all your fault. I just knew you’d be irresponsible about that dog. I should never have trusted you.” A soft start-up uses “I” instead of “you”; describes what is happening without evaluating or judging; expresses a clear need; is polite, respectful and appreciative.

Tap the brakes

When a conversation gets off to a bad start, or off track, learn to tap the brakes. Slow down or stop the conversation, apologize when you fumble and start over (with a softer start up). Tapping the brakes may include taking a break for self-soothing, incorporating humor, and accepting the others apology when they fumble.

Learn to Self-soothe

A primary skill in managing conflict is learning to self-soothe. When we are in conflict with someone, especially when it’s a relationship that matters, our heart rate, cortisol levels and tension are often high. These physiological responses create stress in our bodies, which can make us ill and block our abilities to take in information and to solve problems. Basically, our fight or flight response is on full alert and all we can do is sense danger. Empathy, problem-solving and creative thinking go out the window. When we self-soothe we are bringing calm to our bodies, which will allow us to think more clearly and allow creative solutions for the conflict at hand.

  1. Take a break from the conversation with an agreed upon time to return to the conversation. The break must be for a minimum of 20 minutes. This gives the body time to metabolize the neurotransmitter released in the brain when triggered. During the break listen to calming music, take a walk, practice deep breathing. Don’t use this time to ruminate about how unfair or what a jerk the other person is.
  2. Get control of your breathing. Slow down your breathing by inhaling/exhaling 6 times within a minute.
  3. Reduce muscle tension by using progressive muscle relaxation. Tense each group of muscles and then relax. Start with your feet and work your way up to your face. Let the tension flow out of our body as you relax each muscle group.
  4. Focus your attention on one calming idea, scripture or vision. For example, imagine being on the beach. Visualize it as vividly as possible; feel the warmth of the sun, imagine the breeze on your face, the lapping of the water, refresh your mind with a favorite scripture or worship song.

Tolerate faults and learn to compromise

Lasting relationships are built on our ability to accept others faults and then work around them. Compromise is difficult to reach when we harbor a list of faults for the other person to change. Once we embrace that conflict resolution is not about the person changing, but about negotiating and finding common ground we can then accommodate the other.

While there are many benefits of using these methods to build better relationships, don’t miss the opportunities these relationships offer for personal growth. Opportunities to grow in love.

I Corinthians 13:8; 13 “All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever.”; “…love is the greatest gift.”

Happy building better relationships!