How to have Great Relationships

16 + 5 tips!

(This is an edited version of the article first published in the Pegasus NLP Newsletter - 1st February 2000)

One of the keys to a successful and happy life is the ability to have great relationships - at home, at work, and in your social life.

The following suggestions are based on the skills and attitudes of Great Relaters - people who develop and maintain wonderful relationships. By using NLP to model, or identify the characteristics of, 'Great Relaters' we discover an extensive list. Attractive as the prospect might be there is no '3-steps to success' formula. It is a more complex, but learnable process.

The following is a fairly random first selection. It is a starter to get you up and running. We will return to the topic in future issues.

1. Be a good listener

And show a sincere interest in what's happening in the other person's life. Remember that we have one mouth but two ears - use this as a reminder of how much talking to engage in versus how much listening.

2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes

As a good listener momentarily step into the other person's world (without being sucked into their negative states). Being in the other person's world requires that you listen with openness. In other words, while you are listening you do that and only that - you listen. This may take a bit of practice since most people tend to partially listen, while internally preparing or rehearsing what they are going to say next. This is in line with the very important NLP Principle of respecting others' Model of the World.

3. Empathy rather than sympathy

Empathy means understanding and having a feel for their difficulty without trying to get involved unless asked. Sympathy, feeling sorry for them, is disrespectful and indicates that you believe that they, on their own, do not have the resources to handle their own difficulty.

4. Look for the other person's good points

There will be plenty of these and you have a choice in whether you pay more attention to their good points or their imperfections. The more you discover a person's good points and focus on these the more your respect for them increases.

5. Keep in touch

Even if you last were together a few hours earlier, at breakfast perhaps, how about a one-minute phone call to ask how their day is going or to tell them you are thinking of them?

Or a one-line email or text-message? Keep in touch with those far away, too. Long-distance relationships can endure for decades if nourished. The occasional letter, card, phone call or email will nourish and maintain the relationship.

6. What is their point of view?

Be able to see the world from their viewpoint. This is probably the single most important relating skill in life partnerships, friendships, and business. If you were in their shoes, with their feelings, beliefs, values, background, etc., how would the situation look to you? What would be your needs or expectations or concerns? Here you can apply the NLP Perceptual Positions technique.

7. Respect their views

Recognise that we see things differently. That we all have a different world view. This view or model of reality is based on our experience of life up to now. No one world view is 'right' or 'wrong' - it is a matter of opinion and, just as your views change from time to time, so will theirs. By taking the time to get to know their ever-changing world view you just might learn things which would enrich or widen your own.

8. Accept imperfections

Recognise and tolerate a person's weaknesses and imperfections. After all me 'weaknesses' will be subjective evaluations based on your world view.

And remember that perfect people do not exist - most of us are doing the best we can from moment to moment, working to reduce the number and magnitude of our imperfections - it's a life-long project.

9. Right?  Or HAPPY?

Have you ever noticed, especially in family relationships, how easy it is to get into the You're-Wrong-I'm-Right thing? Ever notice how silly it is - afterwards, when you've hurt one another and are making up again? How about deciding together that you won't do it in the first place! Decide between you and your partner/friend that it is more important to be HAPPY than RIGHT.

Decide that you will each keep a sense of perspective and aim to avoid stupid arguments over 'important issues' such as why the other person did not put the milk back in the fridge last night, forgot to buy one of the items on the list when they went shopping, etc. That you will each give the other permission to be human and to, from time to time, forget the 'house rules' and make mistakes without having to afterwards suffer.

10. Remember that life is finite

If you suddenly discovered that you had three months to live would you waste as much time on arguments and sulks with friends and family? How many additional compliments and 'I love you' gestures would you make? How much more time would you spend with loved ones?

The reason we often procrastinate on these things is that we assume that life will go on forever and that we'll get around to them one day. We may - and it may be too late when we do. I have encountered so many parents who missed out on their children's growing up because they were too busy attending to careers, housework, etc. Then, when they did make the time to spend with their children, the children weren't interested - they'd learned to get by without the attention and were getting on with their lives - without the parent.

11. Stop trying to change people

This is an especially common failing in life partnerships. Remember you did not choose the person because of their potential to be the person you wanted them to become. You got together because you loved one another and in the first flush of love you focused only on the things you liked about them. So how is it that when we start living together or marry that we switch and begin to crowd out the lists of 'good points' by increasingly becoming obsessed with listing, and reminding them of, the things that we do not like about them?

Try it out for yourself - how do you feel when someone lists and compliments you on your good points? How do you feel towards a person who lists and criticises you for your failings? Which of these do YOU do with those closest to you? Take a moment right now to consider how this must make them feel - about themselves and about you.

12. Value the differences

Value the differences in how you and the other person thinks - and seek to learn from the other person. This is similar to the previous item.

Often it's the our differences that make for the stimulation and the learning opportunities in friendships and relationships. When we first meet it is often the similarities between us that enables us to bond and create rapport. As we get to know the other person better we begin to recognise the deeper differences. Potentially these produce the strength of the relationship - as Ken Blanchard stated 'none of us is as smart as all of us' - as a team our combined strengths and weaknesses make the partnership much stronger that total of our individual strengths.

13. Don't expect them to be clairvoyant!

Take responsibility for the effects of your communication. Good intentions are not enough! It is not enough to MEAN well when communicating - people can only respond to what and how you communicate. They cannot read your mind and know what you meant! You must communicate with responsibility for the response you get from the other person! And if the other person is not responding as you had expected you need to change how you communicate with them, otherwise it is simply ineffectual communication!

Inter-personal communication can be a bit like a mine-field at first. If you blindly rush in, with the good intention of getting a particular result, you'll likely step on a few mines. But there's no point in blaming the mines. What is important is to figure out the most effective way of getting across or, in human relationships, getting your message across to the individual with whom you are communicating. Not only has your message got to be tailored to suit the other person's thinking style it also has to be tailored to suit their mood at that particular moment.

14. Value what you have

Value what you have in the relationship or friendship. You do not (I hope) form a friendship or life relationship based on the condition that, while the person is a bit flawed right now, you'll soon knock them into shape! You accept the person as a 'package deal'.

Yet, as we get to know the other person better, many of us have a tendency to want to change others into our view of their potential - and we then proceed on a relentless campaign to change them! This, of course, results in arguments, resentment, and hurt feelings. Yet even if we could change them we'd likely lose respect for them for allowing us to have done it and for not having the personal strength to be themselves!

15. Take the long-term view!

Especially in difficult moments in your personal relationships. Many of us have had the experience of being in a loving relationship and suddenly one of those interpersonal land-mines explodes and, often from a quite trivial beginning, a row develops and escalates.

Recognise that this happens even in the best of relationships and it's time to silently ask yourself the RIGHT OR HAPPY? question. So back off, avoid hurling abuse or making hurtful comments, give in on trivia, and recognise that the other person is human, just like you, and subject to bouts of irrationality, just like you. (Well you are, aren't you? Or are you one of those sad people who have to believe that they are right all of the time?)

16. Recognise their specialty

Be aware that everyone you meet is your superior in some way and seek to learn from them. Everyone has a story to tell, a skill to share, an insight to enrich the world with. And you will only learn about these when you make the space and take the time to do so. And when you have refined your ability to listen - really listen. But we cannot do this if we are sniping at one another, trying to change one another, or are bogged down in the day to day trivia and have lost sight of the big picture and the long term view.

Your attitude towards yourself

These are a few of the traits I have observed in peopel who could be called 'great relaters'

1. It's OK not to be perfect.

Own, and allow others to see, your own weaknesses, vulnerabilities and imperfections - after all they are what make us 'human'. Have you ever noticed, with someone you are very fond of, that it is their weakness that make them so endearing to us. Without these imperfections they would be too-good-to-be-true! So give yourself the freedom to be a person - and give up that quest to be the perfect Wife, Husband, Father, Mother, Friend - just be an imperfect and quite flawed Person with a sense of humour about your imperfections.

2. Value your own time, individuality and needs.

Avoid the Martyr Syndrome ("After all I've done for you/them/etc. this is the thanks I get, etc.") Make space for yourself, your interests, your personal development and your peace of mind.

This is not easy if you have a family, a job and a lot of things to fit in. The alternative is to put your needs aside for now - until we start the family, until the children have started school, until the children have left school, until the children have started their families, until we've got the finances straightened out, redecorated the house, moved house, retired…. Oops, it's too late…

3. See your life as a continuous process of learning.

If there is always something to learn, new ways of doing things, and additional refinements to be made in your views, you are less likely to be autocratic and dogmatic and will avoid the tendency to impose your views and your will on others. You will also maintain a flexile and open attitude to life and to people. And be easier to live with.

4. Avoid taking yourself too seriously

And allow others the freedom to not take you too seriously, either. Have a healthy sense of humour which is frequently directed against/towards yourself. You know that you are not perfect so why get twitchy when others recognise this and highlight your imperfections humorously. When you get things wrong learn from your mistakes and then look at the funny side of it. When you find yourself in a heated argument over important things like which TV programme to watch, what meal to have this evening, etc. see the funny side of taking such trivia so seriously.

5. Maintain your vitality.

More than anything else, except ill health, tiredness will undermine your good intentions, your sense of perspective and your sense of humour.

Putting things into practise

(1) One thing at a time

Where do you begin? There are too many items on the above list to attempt to put them all into practise at the same time. Attempting to do that will result in your succeeding with none of them.

So pick one or two that you find relevant and use these for two or three weeks. ( I don't know why this should be but, in working with people, I have found that a behavioural or attitudinal change is more likely to last if it has been practised for about 3 weeks. )

(2) Make it a joint project

How about printing out this article and going through it with a loved one. Decide between you which item is most relevant to your relationship right now and work on it, as a team, for a few weeks.


The Pegasus NLP Newsletter

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