Like the law of the harvest, seeds are sown in relationships and their growth and health are determined by the quality of the environment and nourishment surrounding them.
Our earliest interactions shape our impressions and beliefs about others, setting the stage for our capacity to be effective in relationships. We are often unaware of these intuitive influences and their impact on our approach to cultivating connections later in life.
Relationships evolve, and specific elements enhance their effectiveness:
Common Ground is what brings people together in the first place, and the glue that keeps us connected. Without something in common, there is little reason to remain in relationship.
Geography and similar interests typically bring people together initially.
Next we connect through shared knowledge and experience: this is where we vary the most and have the greatest potential for learning from and with each other. The deepest level of connection comes through a sense of shared values. Whether it is two or a few individuals, a family, a community or an organization, a sense of shared values is the catalyst for long term commitment. Shared values serve as significant roots in relationships, often determining the depth and longevity of the connection.
Connections can be short term or long term, shallow or deep, simple or multifaceted.
Can you relate this to your current relationships and determine who meets which criteria?
Once we connect through common ground, we may move towards commitment. This can involve a short term or long term commitment, to engage in specific activities, to pursue particular goals, or to explore a potential partnership. The level of commitment will determine the depth and longevity of most relationships: the deeper the commitment the longer the relationship is likely to last. Commitment is the intention of maintaining a connection, and sharing responsibility for keeping it alive. Without commitment, connections are short term and sketchy, potentially leaving participants at odds regarding the value of their investment.
Communication is the way we make meaning with one another and is crucial to cultivating long term connections. It is complex, multifaceted and is the foundation of effective interaction.
The word communication comes from the Latin root communis, meaning common or shared understanding. Many people think of communication as speaking and sharing words and ideas, often missing the most significant aspects of nonverbal language and the emotional elements of interaction.
Unfortunately, communication is most often learned by default, from the people we interact with most consistently. We enter the world with no words, and learn through trial and error how to communicate and meet our needs through relationships with others. It is impossible not to communicate, as actions really do speak louder than words.
“Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.”
Collaboration and Compromise
Collaboration is the process of negotiating needs among parties in a relationship. Unlike compromise, where all parties give up some of what they want, collaboration is the common quest to meet the needs of all parties involved, without anyone giving anything up. The two work in concert as significant characteristics of effective long term relationships.
It is not necessary or even realistic that relationships always be equal, but they must be equitable. Equity is the sense that each person involved feels they get as much out of the relationships as they put in. Over time, this balance may shift and evolve based on changes in people, their needs and their circumstances. Ultimately, like any other investment, we remain committed to those that provide a reasonable rate of return. The longer we are in relationships, the more complex, challenging and important these principles become.
Specific Strategies for Effectiveness
- Be interested in what people important to you are interested in: cultivate common ground.
- Determine the purpose of specific relationships and work towards achieving it together
- Commit to investing time and energy in cultivating strong connections through shared experiences and values
- Communicate consistently with congruence (words and actions match!)
- Acknowledge and communicate what works in relationships, avoid excessive focus on what is wrong.
- Expect the best out of others and they will likely live UP to your expectations.
- Consider the potential impact of your words and actions in advance: you can’t take them back!
- Realize that relationships, like people, evolve and change. Embrace opportunities to adapt, acknowledge and celebrate those changes
- Challenge yourself to bring something new to the table: don’t expect others to do what you are not willing to do to keep relationships alive
- Stay connected through ways that work: face time, talk, text, written words, notes and letters.
- Realize we all communicate differently and the more avenues we embrace the more options we have for effectiveness
The “seeds” that we sow in relationships are the basis for our potential harvest. Like a live garden, healthy relationships require planning, preparation and pruning in order to propagate. Nothing grows without nourishment: relationships are no exception.
How do you capture the energy and attention of those you love and care about? What keeps your relationships interesting and alive? Keeping things fresh and new can be challenging, especially long term. What is comfortable and familiar forms a firm foundation, but surprise and spontaneity can keep relationships alive. Commit, communicate and collaborate in a conscious effort to build strong relationships: they are your roots to the universe and determine your impact on the world!