Other People Matter How to Build Better Relationships

Other People Matter:

How to Build Better Relationships

By Paula Davis-Laack



he late, great psychologist, Dr. Chris Peterson, summed up decades worth of positive psychology research with the phrase, “Other people matter;” meaning, that connections with others are so essential to happiness that you can’t have one without the other. In fact, researchers at Stanford asked 500 people the following two questions: “What brings you fulfillment?” and “If you only had three days to live, what would you spend your time doing?” At the top of both lists were spending time with loved ones and helping others.1

Building better relationships across the board require a focus in these areas:

Be an Assertive Communicator

Many people I know, myself included, avoid difficult conversations. The goal is to develop flexibility with your communication styles, and to be clear, confident, and controlled in your communication with others.

Here is a model you can follow, just remember to make your CASE:2

C: Communicate the facts. Discuss what you experience and observe about the situation, and use concrete terms to avoid exaggeration and subjective impressions.

A: Address your concerns in an objective way. Express how you feel calmly and avoid placing blame on the other person.

S: Specify concrete actions you want to see stopped or limited, and those you want to see performed. Also, make sure to ask the other person for their perspective.

E: Evaluate outcomes. Suggest accept- able alternatives, negotiate, and summarize potential courses of action.

Most importantly, do your homework before you even have a conversation. Sorting out your own thinking before you have a conversation is a critical component of being an assertive communicator.3

If you only had three days to live, what would you spend your time doing?

Build More Empathy

Empathy is the ability to know how another person is feeling. Research shows that empathy is related to personal and professional success, it can reduce aggression and prejudice, and it’s an important part of successful marriages and thriving organizations.4

Psychologist Daniel Goleman outlines three different varieties of empathy. The first is cognitive empathy, which is the ability to understand how another person thinks and being able to see their point of view. The second type is emotional empathy, which is the ability to feel the emotions of the other person you are with. The third type is an empathetic concern, which means that you not only understand how the person sees things in the moment but also includes the desire to want to help the other person if you sense the need.

Respond the Right Way to Others’ Good News

No other skill has changed my relationships more in the past few years than this one. I learned that while I was there for my friends, family, and colleagues when they needed advice and someone to lend an ear during times of crisis, I was actually damaging my relation- ships by not doing the same when those people shared good news with me.

How you respond to a person’s good news is as important for the health of the relationship as how you respond to bad news, and there are four different response styles. Only one actually builds relationships, while the others actively damage relationships.5

Most importantly, do your homework before you even have a conversation.

Passive Constructive: You offer distracted, understated support, which kills the conversation. This style leaves the sharer of good news feeling misunderstood and unimportant.

Passive Destructive: You one-up the person, ignore their good news, or take over the conversation and make it about you.

Active Destructive: You take a negative focus when the person shares good news. This style leaves the sharer feeling angry and even embarrassed. If you’re truly concerned about someone’s good news, take a few minutes to actively constructively respond to it, then pick a separate time and place to have a follow-up conversation.

Active Constructive: This is the only response style to good news that builds relationships. You help the person re-live the good news by showing authentic interest and asking questions. This style actually benefits both the sharer and the responder because it generates positive emotions and both people walk away from the conversation feeling better.

Active constructive responding takes just a minute or two, but the relationship payoff is huge. If you support other people when they share good news with you, they’ll be more likely to come to you with bad news because you’ve built up a bank of trust.

The topic of connection reminds me of this quote from comedian George Carlin. He said, “The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time… We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life but not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.”

“We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.” — George Carlin

Here is my challenge to you: Pick one relationship you want to improve and set a specific goal in the coming month to make it better using one of these strategies. Please let me know how it goes!

1 Emma Seppala (2016). The Happiness Track. New York: HarperCollins.
2 I developed the CASE acronym, in part, with Lorrie Peniston, and it is based on a model of assertive communication created by Sharon Anthony Bower and Gordon H. Bower, and is more fully explained in their book, Asserting Yourself: A Practical Guide for Positive Change (New York, NY: De Capo Press, 2004). See also Kim Cameron, Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance, 51-65 (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2008).
3 The ideas in this paragraph were taken from a training activity adapted from material by Dr. Karen Reivich.
4 Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence 96-110 (New York, NY: Bantam, 1995).
5 Shelly L. Gable, Gian C. Gonzaga, & Amy Strachman (2006). Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? Supportive Responses to Positive Event Disclosures, 91 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol., 904-17.

Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP is a burnout prevention and resilience expert who helps companies and busy professionals prevent burnout and build stress resilience. She is the author of Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention. Please visit Paula’s website at www.pauladavislaack.com or email her at paula@pauladavislaack.com.

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