Have you ever wished you were more of a people person? Maybe you’ve noticed times you unintentionally rub people the wrong way. Or perhaps you know people who seem to make friends effortlessly and can’t figure out their secret. Author Les Giblin once wrote, “If you will stop and think a minute, the chances are that you will say that the people you know who are the most successful, and enjoy life the most, are those who ‘have a way’ with other people.”
Cultivating relationships is something I’ve had to work at throughout my life. I’ve never considered myself one of those blessed people who others seem to flock toward. I’ve made lots of mistakes in relationships during my life, but have worked hard to learn how to treat people well. I’m no relational expert by any means, but here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way.
1. Value relationships.
One of the first keys to having healthy relationships is valuing those relationships. Make it a priority to nurture the relationships you have and build relationships with the people you meet. Relationships are work, and nothing will help you improve your relationships if you don’t see the value they can have in your life. When others hurt you, work on your relationship as something cherished. C.S. Lewis once wrote:
“Friendship is the greatest of worldly good. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’”
2. Remember the one interest we all share.
Relationships often form and grow around shared interests, and everyone is interested in themselves. Now I don’t mean they are self-interested in a selfish or narcissistic way. But all people like to talk about their own experiences and perspectives. When you start a relationship, take a special interest in the things people have done and the interests they have. As you look for shared interests, remember they are certainly somewhat interested in themselves. We all are.
3. Make people feel great about themselves.
Pay attention to the gifts and talents other people demonstrate, and find ways to encourage them. Praise their talents in public, and praise their talents in private. Show them you are rooting for them. Giblin wrote, “Men and women who have the most influence with other people are men and women who believe other people are important.” Show other people you think they are important.
4. Use your network to help people.
All people have needs from time to time. Whenever possible, use your own network to help and serve others. You may be able to nurture two relationships at once by connecting two people who can help each other. Maybe those two people should work together, be friends or even fall in love. Even if the connection doesn’t amount to much, they will remember how you went out of your way to help them.
5. Seek to understand people, not to change people.
Relationships are much healthier when two people genuinely seek to understand each other. When conflict arises — as it always does — most people try to change the other person’s beliefs and behaviors to their own. Instead, first seek to understand what causes people to do the things they do. If we can listen and figure out the underlying cause of disagreements, the subsequent conversations will usually go much smoother.
6. Never ever attack someone’s ego.
This is a big one. There are times when other people will make mistakes or fail. Never make someone look bad or point out a flaw, especially in public. This can destroy a relationship with a single blow. If you ever have to point out a flaw, do so privately and let them save face. Let them know you assume the best and were surprised by their mistake. As Giblon put it, “Tell a man that his ideas are stupid, and he will defend them all the more… Use threats, or scare tactics, and he simply closes his mind against your ideas, regardless of how good they may be.” Many relationships might be spared if people learned not to criticize others. The criticism may even be warranted, but there are tactful ways to correct someone, ways which save and even build the relationship.
7. Avoid sarcasm and joking at someone’s expense.
This is a lesson I’ve had to learn and relearn. I can be a pretty sarcastic person at times. I love to laugh and make others laugh, and sometimes I use sarcasm. But I’ve learned to never make other people the target of sarcasm or joking. Most people play it off like they don’t care, but deep down no one wants to be the butt of the joke. If you have a sarcastic disposition like me, learn to never use sarcasm to threaten someone’s self-esteem. You can be funny without going after other people.
I regularly come back to these truisms and remind myself of both the work and reward of healthy relationships. I can hardly estimate the joy that people have brought into my life. As we value our relationships and work on them, we will certainly reap the rewards of life together.
What have you learned about treating other people well?