Posts Tagged ‘friendships’

Building Bonds

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

This month, we’re told to focus on romantic love, and encouraged to buy flowers, chocolates, and candy hearts to express our fondness for loved ones. And while these are fun — especially if you like candy —  there may be a better way to communicate your affections. Consider devoting some time this month to the emotional intelligence competency of building bonds.

Good friends and trusted colleagues are hard to come by. And there’s a reason. Many of us are lacking the skills it takes to nurture and maintain deep relationships.

With the rise of technology use, especially when it’s used to replace in-person interactions, and the ever-increasing number of people who are working remotely, alone, isolated from colleagues and clients, opportunities to connect with others face-to-face seem to be dwindling.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

– Helen Keller, Activist & Teacher

Andrea Michelli, Professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health, King’s College London, reported in a January 2022 article that 45% of those in the UK reported feelings of loneliness. She notes, “With reports that loneliness has been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are concerns that it could reach epidemic proportions by 2030, unless action is taken.”[https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/01/lonely-study-green-space-city/]

The ability to build bonds with others is not some magical quality which only a few individuals are gifted to possess. It is something we all can develop. Those who are good at building bonds tap into their extensive networks of connections to share ideas, offer collaboration, and gain support when needed. They’re able to build rapport easily and earn the trust of others. Not only do they have a close-knit web of personal friends, they get along with colleagues at work and are not afraid to be open and authentic to build friendships in the workplace. They’re respectful of others and value people and perspectives which are different than their own.

When people struggle with this competency of emotional intelligence, they tend to have troubles connecting with their colleagues, direct reports, and upper management. Part of the reason behind this is that they are unable to recognize the needs of others, and don’t pick up on social cues to notice others’ concerns. They can be competitive, and when conflict arises, quickly let go or sever relationships to avoid the frustration. Because they have an extremely limited number of connections, when they need help, they have very few people they can lean into, which leads to isolation.

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”

– H. E. Luccock, Professor

If you are struggling with building bonds with others, there are practices you can begin to help you improve your skills. On the other hand, you may be quite adept at connecting with others — if so, well done! But there’s always room for improvement. These same practices can strengthen and deepen those relationships.

Here are a few things to try:

  • Conduct a status report on your current friendships and connections. If you were to rate the quality of your relationships on a scale from 0 to 10, how would you rank your current friendships? Do you feel known and understood? Do they? And how about quantity? We’re not talking about having thousands of superficial interactions, but about increasing the number of connections upon which you can trust and rely. Maybe it’s time to make a new friend or two.
  • Note how your current relationships impact your success, both personally and professionally. Who is a major contributor to your achievements? Who do you turn to when you need help? Who reaches out to you for support? Take a moment to reflect on the impacts these individuals have on your accomplishments.
  • Reach out to those you are closest to and ask for feedback. Ask your besties what they would name as your strengths. Take some time to celebrate those. Then ask what behaviors hinder your effectiveness at building deeper relationships. Listen and take note of what they share with you.
  • Schedule time each week to meet with others, both to make new connections and strengthen current relationships. Even if you’re introverted, face-to-face time is best in developing better social skills. However, that may not be possible, so see if you can set up a virtual meeting at the least.
  • Notice what your friends and colleagues are going through. Can you tell when your personal friends and professional colleagues are experiencing stress or overwhelm? When is the last time you checked in with them — beyond the superficial “How are ya?”? Take the time to find out. Reach out with a phone call or text. Offer to help and support them. If you’re not sure what they need, try asking them directly.
  • Find someone you respect and trust and ask for support. It is not weak to lean into others. When we ask for help, it makes friends and colleagues feel appreciated and valued. It creates a safe environment for them, in turn, to ask for your help when needed. And, it provides us fresh with insights and perspectives as we work toward solutions…together.
  • Lighten your load. If you feel you have too much on your plate to spend time building bonds, consider taking a few things off that plate. Delegate where you can to carve out more time for connecting. Admit you have too much going on. Grab a trusted friend or colleague who can help you prioritize.
  • Seek out ways to connect with others, professionally and personally. Join the local Chamber of Commerce and attend the monthly meetings. Sign up for an industry-related workshop or conference. Join a social club or group who share your interests. Accept that invitation to meet for lunch. Jump on the optional Zoom call.
  • Become an excellent listener. More often than not, our inability to fully tune into others limits our ability to connect deeply. Put down your phone when someone is talking to you. Listen for the emotions they are conveying behind their words. Confirm that what you’re hearing is really what they’re trying to express. Here’s a simple test to measure your listening ability: note who is doing most of the talking in your conversations…you or them? If it’s you, a simple way to shift this is to ask more open-ended questions, and truly listen to their responses.

Which of these practices will you start with? Pick one and, if possible, spend 10 minutes in the morning thinking about how you might incorporate it into your day. Journal about it, and set some intentions. Who will you try this with? When? How? Where? What benefit will you glean if you do? As with any new habit, these practices may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first. That’s OK. If you get discouraged, remind yourself that building bonds with others is worth the effort, and your skills can grow.

Sure, buy the flowers, the chocolates, and the candy during this season of love. But if you want lasting, meaningful results, consider adding the gift of building bonds. What better way to express your affection this Valentine’s Day?

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”

– Jane Howard

Why Can’t We Get Along?

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

Disagreements are a normal part of everyday life. Gather more than one person in any room, even a virtual room, and given enough time, there will be variances of opinions. And this can be a powerful thing. Many of our innovative ideas come when we are exposed to fresh perspectives.

The Blame Game

The problem arises when we let our differences erupt into conflict, and start playing the blame game. At this point, it’s no longer a matter of disagreement, but a struggle for power. And suddenly, we’re just not getting along.

Learning how to resolve conflicts can lead to more cohesive work teams and healthier relationships at home.

But getting along, especially with those we don’t particularly like, and definitely those we don’t agree with, is easier said than done. Many of us are conflict-avoiders, so when disputes erupt, we shy away from resolve. A common tactic to avoid conflict is to place blame on the other person.

We learn at an early age that blaming can sometimes get us out of trouble…at least temporarily. As a child, pointing the finger at one of my ornery brothers “saved” me, countless times, from getting grounded, which made it appear to be a lucrative strategy! As we move into adulthood, many of us do not learn conflict resolution skills, and carry this childish behavior into our grown-up relationships, both at work and at home. It doesn’t take long to realize that assigning blame becomes a hindrance to healthy, happy connections with others. Sure, the technique may seem to protect our self-esteem, but it does nothing to move us toward resolve.

In her article, Workplace Blame is Contagious and Detrimental, Susan Krauss Whitbourne shares this: “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose.” Other studies show that casting blame is contagious, and negatively effects creativity and productivity [https://www.livescience.com/8018-workplace-blame-contagious-detrimental.html]. Nancy Colier, in a Psychology Today article, says this: “[Blame] blocks your personal growth, damages your relationships, and gets in the way of your own well-being.” [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201601/4-steps-stop-blaming]

Avoiding Action

Blaming allows us to avoid action. Yet action is the very thing needed to heal rifts.

Pat Ladouceur, in an article entitled, Who’s Fault Is It?, says, insightfully, “Blame separates people from your values, beliefs, and commitment. If the problem belongs to someone else, then you have a reason to dig in your heels. You miss an opportunity to grow, to stretch, to challenge yourself. You might miss a chance to change the way you think or act, or a chance to be deeply honest: by sharing your fear, or disappointment, or sadness in a heartfelt way.” [https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/whose-fault-is-it-how-blame-sabotages-relationships/]

Ladouceur goes on to say, “Blame creates inaction. When someone blames, it’s as if they’re handing over control of the situation. “I can’t change until you do,” is the implicit message. The solution is in their partner’s hands.”

Self-Awareness

We all blame others from time to time. It is a learned behavior, a very human behavior. But it is something we can learn to do less of. Self-awareness, the first competency of emotional intelligence, can pave the way toward growth. But sometimes we have blind spots, and may not recognize how often we’re making someone else carry the responsibility for our own actions.

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.

— J. Michael Straczynski

How do you know if you’re a finger pointer? Try the following test, developed by Nancy Colier. Ask yourself these questions, and answer with either yes or no:

  1. Would it be normal for you to respond to someone with a problem by telling him why he is to blame for his problem?
  2. In relationships with friends and family, do you often find yourself pointing the finger? Do you tell others how and why they are wrong, using phrases such as You did it, or, It’s your fault?
  3. When you confront difficulties or inconveniences, is it common for you to identify and ruminate over who or what is to blame? 
  4. When you are upset or in a difficult situation, do you frequently blame someone for making you feel the way you do? 

Colier states, “If you answered yes to any one of these questions, you are a blamer. If you answered yes to multiple questions, then your blaming behavior may very well be compromising your relationships, your well-being, and your personal evolution.”  [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201601/4-steps-stop-blaming]

How did you do?

If you’re a blamer, no shame. You are not alone. But if you are interested in growth, development, and relationship health, both at home and at work, at some point the blame has to stop. Whitbourne goes on to say this, “Learning to tell when you need to own up to your role in a bad situation will help you grow from your experiences, and ultimately help you achieve more fulfilling relationships.” [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game]

Making Shifts

No matter how long you’ve been playing the blame game, you can start today to make a shift. Here are ten ways to get along with others better (and lay down the blame):

1-Set an intention to stop blaming. As with any goal, it’s helpful to be clear about your intentions. Say it aloud, share it with a trusted friend, write it down. It could be as simple as, “I intend to own my own role in my conflicts” or “I intend to stop blaming others.”

2-Tune in. Notice when you shift blame and take note. Is it when you are around a certain person? Is it only at work, or only at home? Is it when you know you’ve done something in opposition to your values? Is it when you are hungry, or tired, or emotionally spent? A great first step to stop playing the blame game is to simply notice when you blame, and why.

3-Develop your empathetic skills. It’s hard to show empathy toward someone when you’re angry with them…and it’s the last thing you’ll feel like doing! But try, difficult as it may be, to put yourself in their shoes. Ask open-ended questions as you seek to understand their perspective. Listen without judgement and ask clarifying questions. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying — you just want to validate their feelings. The emotions they are feeling — anger, frustration, irritation, injustice — most likely are very similar to what you’re experiencing. The feelings are legit — as are yours. Express clearly, emphatically, and often, that you understand how they’re feeling.

4-Seek a fresh perspective. Have you noticed that when you’re in conflict, it’s all you can think about? It’s the first thing which pops into your head in the morning, and the last thing you ruminate on when you lie down to sleep. Sometimes it can even prevent a good, restful sleep! This consumption can be detrimental to conflict resolve, because the longer you obsess on a particular topic, the bigger and more difficult it seems to become. You need a breath of fresh air. Get outside, engage in some exercise, talk to others (about anything but the conflict), watch a movie, read a book…anything to help you get your brain off the topic for a reprieve. Taking a ‘break’ enables you to step back and put your conflict into a larger-world perspective.

5-Name it to Tame it. Often when we shift blame, it’s to avoid uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, shame, hurt, disappointment, anger, etc. I get it. Negative feelings are no fun! Which emotion(s) are you attempting to avoid by pointing your finger? Be specific. Try to think of these emotions, as much as they may make you squirm, as dear friends, willing to tell you the truth. Emotions provide valuable insights into what’s really going on. Instead of stuffing them inside or pretending they’re nonexistent, allow yourself to name them, feel them, and note why they are there. Journal or talk to someone about these emotions.

6-Learn to say “I’m sorry”. Yes, they’re two of the hardest words to say when you feel wronged, yet so very powerful. Obviously, conflict is rarely one person’s fault. The Latin root of the word speaks for itself. Conflict comes from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see con-) + fligere “to strike”[https://www.etymonline.com/word/conflict#:~:text=conflict]. Remember, it takes two to tango. Own your contribution to the problem –even if you didn’t ‘start it’ — and apologize for the hurtful things you’ve said and done. Don’t wait for the other person to apologize first, because you may be waiting a long, long time. You can’t control their actions, but you can control yours.

7-Take Constructive Action. Instead of ruminating ’round and ’round on who’s fault it is, instead, shift your focus on what you can do to turn things around. Read a book on conflict resolve. Enroll in a class. Take on a new project. Help them out. Offer a kind word. Treat them to lunch. Not only will constructive actions help you focus on something other than the conflict, your energy will be repurposed elsewhere, pointing the way to personal and professional growth.

8-Decide to forgive. There is a phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” Each of us have been hurt at some point or another, and each of us (whether wittingly or unwittingly) have hurt others. Recognize that conflict happens, and, even if someone is not owning their role in it, you can still choose to let go of trying to bring some sort of punishment or penalty upon them. It doesn’t mean you need to become best friends. But you can free yourself by forgiving yourself, and the other person, for the poor behavior.

9-Seek out the help of others. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Behavior change is much more palatable — and effective — when you have others walking alongside you. Enlist the help of a coach or counselor. Find a trusted friend or colleague who will speak the truth, and spur you along your new path. Choose a mentor and spend time learning from them.

10-Celebrate your wins. Congratulate yourself when you are able to own your role in conflict, and stop assigning blame. Big changes consist of small, day-to-day steps in the right direction. Try reflecting on your improvements at the end of each week, and keep a journal detailing your growth. Share your successes with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor and find ways to celebrate your growth.

Shifting habits such as blaming others can be difficult to do, and does not happen overnight. Offer yourself grace as you move in a new direction. You may never reach ‘perfection’ (does it even exist?), but keep moving, step by step, toward a new way of behaving. In doing so, you’ll begin to experience new levels of health in your relationships — and find that you actually can get along with others…even if you don’t agree with them!

“Everybody is responsible for their own actions. It’s easy to point the finger at somebody else, but a real man, a real woman, a real person knows when it’s time to take the blame and when to take responsibility for their own actions.”

— Marcus Smart

When A Friendship Ends

friendship brokenArticle Contributed by Amy Sargent

Have you ever had a friend tell you they can’t be your friend anymore?

Business partnerships, romantic relationships, and casual acquaintances come and go, and cause upset when they end, but we seem to attach a little more expectations of longevity to the relationships we call friendship. A friend is a person we know in depth, with whom we hold a special bond of mutual affection, (usually exclusive of sexual or family relations). They’re our companion. Our confidant. One we can trust, rely upon, who will stand by us no matter what. But there are times when a friendship, for various reasons, can’t withstand the sands of time. And it hurts.

When friendships come to a close, whether temporarily due to extenuating circumstances or permanently because of unhealthy habits, the pain you feel can trigger a number of reactions:

  • Sadness.   You’ve suddenly lost someone dear to you. This can cause intense sorrowful feelings of emptiness.
  • Revenge.  I know, it’s immature, and equally hurtful, but we’ve all been there.  She has the gall to hurt me?  I’ll just send a snippy little text back…
  • Anger.  You invested a lot of your time, energy and heart into this friend.  And they think they can just walk away?  Now I’m mad…
  • Global negativity. It’s that feeling that this one event is indicative of your overall well-being and breeds thoughts of “here we go again” and  “see, nothing ever works out for me”.
  • Knee-jerk desperation. You’re immediately hit with a vast, empty hole that the friend once filled, and it does not feel good.  Fine, I’ll just replace them with someone new…”Next?!”

Which do you tend to choose?

While each of these emotions are valid, wallowing in any one too long will only retard your healing. And a word of warning: take care to be mindful of your actions while feeling these powerful emotions. Before you act — stop and ask, “Will this help or hurt the situation in the long run?” While full of passion, actions based on emotion alone, without the wisdom of reason, can cause even more damage to both parties.

Resiliency, or grit, is that ability to bounce back after setbacks. Some of us have it, and some of us don’t, especially when we’re faced with something tough, like the loss of a friend, or other setbacks and failures. But it is a competency of emotional intelligence that can be learned and developed. Here are some quick tips that may be of help when faced with a painful loss:

  1. Take care of yourself. We can’t be resilient when we’re lacking sleep, are malnourished, not exercising, or overly-stressed.
  2. Challenge negative ‘self-talk’. Ask yourself, “Is there any evidence to back up this self-doubt I’m feeling?” Probably not.
  3. See disappointments as temporary, short-term and isolated. What just happened is specific to this particular circumstance, and most likely not applicable to your life as a whole.
  4. Seek support from those in your life who care about you. Lean into your other friends and family and don’t try to go it alone.
  5. Do something that brings you rest and renewal. Can you get away for a few days to your favorite place? Go dancing? Take a long nap? Think about what brings you joy, and treat yourself to that luxury if possible.
  6. Learn from others. It always helps to see what others are going through, and discover how they worked through their own disappointments. Outward thinking puts the situation into perspective and gets our mind off ourselves.

“Your choice:  victim or victor.”  — Author unknown

We all know someone who is experiencing pain from loss, whether it be a friendship, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or just general disappointment with life. If you’d like to learn more about resiliency, both how to develop more of it and instill it in others, consider an online class designed for leaders, coaches, and individuals. Click here for more details:  How to Develop Resiliency & Instill Grit