To love is nothing. To be loved is something. But to love and be loved by the one you love is EVERYTHING.
Nothing brings more joy than the quality of our relationships and nothing brings more pain than the quality of our relationships. And that’s true for our personal relationships as well as our work relationships.
We all want our relationships to be good, healthy, and productive. But we must be willing to put the work into it and realize that relationships take management. We all want our relationships to have the warmth, kindness and respect that one elderly gentleman exhibited, but this does not happen without management.
As one nurse told the story, it was a busy morning in the clinic when a man in his 80’s came in to have some stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment in 30 minutes. She took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would be able to see him.
As the nurse saw the old man looking at his watch, she decided to evaluate his wound, seeing she wasn’t busy with another patient. She saw that his thumb was well healed, so she got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and re-bandage his thumb.
While taking care of his wound, the nurse asked him if he had another doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry.
The gentleman said no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. He said she had been there for a while and that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
As they talked, the nurse asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years.
Surprised, the nurse commented, “And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?” The old man smiled as he patted her hand and said, “She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.”
As the old man left the clinic, the nurse had to hold back her tears. She had goose bumps on her arms and thought, “That is the kind of love I want in my life.”
True love is neither physical nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be.
Of course, we can all sit around doing nothing and hope our relationships at home and on the job are that good. But good relationships don’t just pop up magically. They are built or managed … and the best news of all … they can be managed.
After surveying the research on relationship management or team building in a variety of fields, covering a variety of situations, there is one overriding factor which nurtures all relationships. And you’re never going to guess what it is. I know I wouldn’t have guessed it if I hadn’t done a lot of research. The factor is “stimulation or excitement.”
In essence, anything shared experience that increases the excitement level of two people … and is seen as a positive experience by both people … will strengthen the relationship between the two of them. In other words, whatever increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenalin … in a good way … when you’re with another person or a team of people … will build up your relationship.
So how can you manage your relationships to do that? How can you put the “excitement factor” to work for you? Actually, there are five key ways to relationship management.
Key 1 to relationship management:
Of course, good, open, self-disclosing communication is almost always the best way. In order to connect with someone you need to be able to communicate. This is not always easy in personal or work relationships. But it is not impossible! It takes work and it takes relationship management. Yes, just like anything else in your life that you want to be successful, you must take control and manage it.
Relationships are not any different. If you need help learning to communicate with the people in your life, there are many tools to help you. Reading this article on relationship management is a start. I also have a book that has helped thousands of people. It’s called The Brave Questions Payoff: Building Stronger Relationships by Asking all the Right Questions.
Key 2 to relationship management:
Expose yourself to an external stimulus.
You and the other person could experience something exciting that is happening outside of your relationship. In other words, you might experience a rousing football game, tune into a good movie, or watch the demolition of large building together. Anything that will get your hearts pumping faster in unison will strengthen your relationship, as long as the external stimulus is not too threatening or dangerous.
There’s only one caution. An external stimulus means you’re turning your attention away from the other person. While that may be okay when your relationship is strained, it won’t work in the long run if that’s all you ever do. An external stimulus, however, becomes especially effective when you talk about it afterwards.
Key 3 to relationship management:
Fight a common enemy.
When people perceive a common enemy and work together to successfully overcome it, the bonds between the people will be tightened. For example, it could be argued that marriages were stronger during the Depression than when the economy was roaring. During the Depression, a couple had to work together to fight off poverty.
We know that the people in an office come together when they have to meet a certain deadline or risk losing their customers and possibly their jobs. And we know that many politicians will demonize anyone that opposes them in hopes of getting the people to unite behind him.
Again there’s a caution. While it may be possible to identify common enemies to overcome together, your relationship would be based on worry and anxiety. And if your common enemy disappears, your relationship might die as well because there may not be anything else to sustain it.
It’s like the couple who gets married against the wishes of their parents. Indeed, it’s the one thing that really holds them together. But if the parents relent, if the couple doesn’t have anyone to fight, their relationship may fall apart as well.
Or it’s like the co-workers who team up in opposition to their incompetent, disrespectful boss. They may spend hours talking about how to cope with the boss, but if the boss moves on to another organization, the coworkers have no one to fight. So they may drift apart.
Even though this approach can strengthen relationships, it has an inherent problem. You’re depending on outside forces to keep you together rather than depending on what you can do for the relationship.
Key 4 to relationship management:
Engage in some shared activities.
When you choose to do some activities together, especially those activities that are non-competitive and require some effort, you strengthen your relationship. Remember the point about increasing your arousal level? So you might try some things like walking, biking, or dancing.
I just spoke to Abbott Pharmaceuticals this week and a part of their retreat was to involve their team mates in mountain hikes, zip lining, and white water rafting. I can’t help believe they had lots of fun but also created lots of memories for future discussions.
Engaging in shared activities can be particularly useful when the communication between you and another person is strained … because you don’t have to do a lot of talking. But once your relationship is strengthened, you can and should move on to some deeper, more personal self-disclosure and communication … which is ultimately the best way to build any relationship.
One side note. Engaging in shared activities doesn’t always have to be strenuous. Just going to church can have a positive effect on your life as well as your relationship. In a 1999 study published in the journal of “Demography,” 20,000 Americans were studied. They found that white people who regularly attended church lived an average of 7 years longer and black people lived a remarkable 14 years longer than their nonchurchgoing counterparts.
Key 5 to relationship management:
Do something “nice” for each other that touches each other emotionally.
Your physical arousal level will increase when you and your partner or team mates do any of the three things mentioned above. But you can get much the same affect when the two of you do something special for each other.
Such was the case with a poor man and his wife. One day the wife, who had very long hair, asked him to buy her a comb for her hair, so she could be well-groomed. The man sadly said no. He explained that he didn’t have enough money to even fix the strap on his old watch. She understood and did not insist on getting her way.
Later that day, the man went to work and passed by a watch shop. He sold his damaged watch at a low price and went to buy a comb for his wife. When he came home in the evening with the comb in his hand, ready to give it to his wife, he was surprised to see her with a very short haircut. She had sold her hair and was holding a new watch band. They both cried, not for the futility of their actions, but for the reciprocity of their love.
That’s what doing something “nice” does to a relationship. It strengthens it immeasurably.
I don’t how good or bad your relationships are at home or on the job. But I do know this. Relationships can be improved. They can be strengthened. And applying these four approaches will start you in the right direction to relationship management. Then you’re ready for the most powerful technique of all … which we’ll talk about in next week’s “Tuesday Tip.”