When the going gets tough, relationships matter. If 2020 has taught us anything about how to navigate our way through a global crisis, it’s that our personal and professional relationships have an impact on our health and wellbeing as well as our productivity and success at work.
“Healthy relationships are a vital component of overall health.… Strong family ties, friendships, and involvement in social activities can increase our sense of security and self-esteem and provide a psychological buffer against stress, anxiety and depression,” reports the University of Minnesota on its website Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing.
In this fascinating Harvard Business Review article by Babson professor Rob Cross, author of The Hidden Power of Social Networks, we discover that it’s our connection to people, not the perfect job, that leads to fulfillment. In interviews with a diverse group of 160 people from a range of industries and positions, researchers found that “flourishing in your career depends as much on your relationships, both in and out of work, as it does on your job itself.”
And if that’s not enough to convince you, this piece published on the PositivePsychology.com website lists ten research projects and academic journal publications that expound on the benefits of social interaction at work. This first one is from Gallup:
“Social interactions play an essential role in wellbeing, which, in turn, has a positive impact on employee engagement. Organizations with higher levels of employee engagement indicated lower business costs, improved performance outcomes, lower staff turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents.”
In November I hosted a webinar on “Sustaining Relationships: How to Maintain Healthy Relationships through Stressful Life Events” with two of our esteemed Dion Leadership coaches, Dr. Rob Passik and Michael Samuelson. Our rich discussion led to several meaningful insights that I’ve continued ponder as we wrap up 2020. This year-end reflection compelled me share these seven relationship insights.
1. Develop Meaningful Interactions
It’s important to build your relationships on a foundation of honesty, integrity, and clarity. Avoid “oblique speak” whenever possible and practice sharing your real feelings. Too often, we gloss over how we are truly feeling. Even people who contracted COVID-19 will say it was not that bad and they are “fine.” And then later you find out they spent three days in the hospital. That is not “fine”! It is okay to admit when an experience was scary, unnerving, or just sucked! As Michael Samuelson said, “People die of embarrassment more than pathology.” Now, more than ever, having healthy, genuine interactions with others is an important way to find connection, belonging, and perspective. How do you develop meaningful interactions? The answer to this lies in the second insight.
2. Practice Vulnerability
To have a meaningful interaction with others, you need to bring all of yourself to the conversation. As mentioned above, it is okay to say you are not okay. It is okay to admit that you are worried, that you are sad or mad. Work toward moving from a transactional interaction to one that helps you and the other person process the gravity of your lives. Keep in mind that someone must go first. Oftentimes when you begin to share at an emotional level, others will follow. This practice, along with the first one on this list, is equally important in our personal and work relationships. Finding time in your day or in your team meetings to talk beyond work tasks and commitments is vital. And when it comes to leading, if you can gently help a direct report or a co-worker realize they are stuck, it may motivate them to identify a new, better path. In this way, you may reach them and those around them in life-changing ways.
If you are interested in learning more about practicing vulnerability, please join us for our upcoming webinar Dare to Lead™, where we will explore the concept as part of the research and leadership program developed by Brené Brown.
3. Tread Carefully with Sensitive Topics
Typically, religion, politics, and sex have been off-limits as conversational topics. But sometimes touchy subjects cannot be avoided. When approaching a sensitive topic, walk into it with the right mindset. St. Francis said it best: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Don’t think you can, or should even try, to change someone else’s long-held views. If you uncover stark differences, be curious and nonjudgmental so you will be able to understand the underpinning of the other person’s strongly held view. And remember, it is okay to agree to disagree. Keep in mind that politics are transitory, but friendships are decades long. Nonetheless, both at work and in your personal life, you sometimes must navigate the “jerks.”
4. Don’t Be Jerked Around by Jerks
We all have different leadership styles, and not everyone around you will share your values and beliefs. Frankly, not everyone is good for your emotional state. Don’t ever forget that you deserve dignity and respect. Here are a few workplace situations to keep in mind:
- If you have to deal with a bully, make sure your communication is clear and you set appropriate boundaries.
- When we coach leaders, we will often ask, “Who would benefit from your failure?” It prompts the leader to pause and consider if someone is sabotaging them inadvertently or intentionally.
- If a boss is oblique, question to clarify and paraphrase to confirm.
- Document workplace manipulation or gamesmanship. At some point if it doesn’t change, you will need to ask if it is worth it. If the stress of dealing with the situation is spilling into your life and creating negative consequences, it may be time to make a change.
- When dealing with an overly demanding person, let them know what you are willing and able to do and why. For example, it is appropriate to communicate when you are and are not able to work from home. You don’t need to explain your reasons or commitments or feel guilty about setting limits. Reframing the conversation and confirming your understanding of the relationship and expectations can go a long way.
- You need to protect yourself. One way to do this is through our next insight, which is found in a unique word from another culture.
5. Bring Hygge to Your Life
Every winter, Denmark endures long periods of extreme cold with only a few hours of daylight. The Danish people have adapted to these extreme conditions and created a healthy and prosperous society. They embrace a concept called hygge, which is defined as a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or wellbeing. How do we practice this ideal? It’s really quite simple. Choose to embrace the simple pleasures of life:
- Invest in comfort – in your physical environment, clothes, and food.
- Get out into nature when you can. When you can’t, find a hobby that brings you relaxation and contentment. Try cooking, puzzling, or other pastimes that calm and center you.
- Stay off social media. Delete that app you are spending too much time staring at. Find your own method to feel good in healthy ways.
6. Be Proactive
This is easier said than done, but it is so important. Consider a familiar adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is so much easier to stop something from happening in the first place than to repair it later.
One key proactive act is to plan out your day before it takes over for you. We recommend beginning each morning with a journal where you write an answer to this statement: Today would be a great day if I …
We suggest this technique because it highlights one task that you have in your control. What will YOU be able to actually do? If you want to plan out more of your day and identify three additional goals you plan to accomplish, great. But stay focused on your one key goal. Work your day around the focus of accomplishing this singular objective.
At the end of your day, capture your reflection. First, start with a list of the abundances from the day. What are you grateful for? It could be as simple as the moment you shared with your loved one while waiting for the toast to pop up. We all have things be grateful for.
Next, list lessons you learned during the day. We keep learning, no matter our age. Consider, in a nonjudgmental way, the missteps you can improve upon.
And finally, write down your one goal for the next day as you start the process over. This discipline brings us to our last, and most important, insight of sustaining relationships.
7. It Starts with Having a Healthy Relationship with Yourself
While this may be the hardest relationship to repair or keep nourished, it is undoubtedly the most important and meaningful. All of our relationships spring from the one we have with ourselves. How do you cultivate this crucial relationship? First, you need to stop and listen to your inner thoughts. Pay attention to the messages you are telling your body and your mind. Carve out some alone time. Grab a journal and make some notes on your thoughts and experience. If you find some behaviors you don’t like, then work to change them. Use the insights in this article to reframe your relationship with yourself. And don’t forget to extend yourself some grace. Give yourself the same forgiveness and compassion you would give others you love. Too often, we are our own worst critic. As the Buddha said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
As the Beatles reminded us, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
With 2020 now in the history books, consider approaching 2021 with love and gratitude for your family, your friends, your work, and most importantly, yourself. Wishing you a year full of personal and professional success.