Tips for Improving Relationships - Strengthening and Protecting Interpersonal Communications - Health and Wellness Article

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Tips for Improving Relationships & Protecting Interpersonal Communications

Richard Terry Lovelace, Ph.D., MSW  

Tip #1.

Do you know someone who acts like this? He or she is so determined to make his "points" that he ignores the needs of others. He gets upset because other people don't "play fairly." When he feels wronged, maybe he tries to "even the score." He is concerned about "faults" -- tries to establish and then emphasizes who is "at fault." His attitudes and resulting emotions and behaviors most definitely don't strengthen relationships!

Does using words such as "points," "play," "score" and "fault" remind you of tennis?

Often, strain in communications begins the way many folks begin playing tennis: They simply and playfully volley balls back and forth. Eventually, a spirit of competitiveness grows. That can be fun ... for a while anyway.

Eventually, one of the "players" gets a bit carried away and hits a "ball" harder than usual. The added velocity of the ball plus the opponent's desire not to "lose" combine to ensure he sends the ball back across the net harder. A "player" attempts to keep the "opponent" from getting to the ball. Such "play" is at its worst when they start working to hit each other with the "balls." So there they are and without meaning to be - stuck in a "match" that has stopped being fun. It has become destructive.

Think about what people do when playing tennis and are on the same team. They play on the same side of the net, right? Productive and satisfying relationships aren't meant to be competitive ... at least not competing with each other. The less you compete (even if you don't think of it as competing), the more cooperation and the less useless stress you both have.

Do this to begin getting relief for and from strained relationships: When you are interacting (in person, by phone or in writing) with the person you want to get along with better, think of (imagine) yourself and that person together on a tennis court. You are both there--this is important--on the same side of the net. You communicate with him or her from that position. He can "hit balls" (say critical remarks, be aloof or whatever) across the net but you aren't there.

It takes two to play the game. You aren't playing that game anymore! With some patience and practice he will tire himself (herself) out and see you more and more as a partner rather than the opponent to be defeated.

Tip # 2.

When communicating with the person you have a strained relationship with, regularly remind yourself to think about "Earl." He is an imaginary fellow who gives directions while you're driving and does so with considerable enthusiasm. If need be he will talk loudly and bounce up and down to get you to take the route he's certain is correct. He is absolutely sure his way is the very best and will tell you that in an angry, stern or forceful manner.

The thing is that he has maybe a zero sense of direction and invariably (so far anyway) tells you the wrong way to go. If anything, you could go the opposite direction he tells you and have a better chance to get where you want to be.

It isn't that Earl is trying to cause trouble. He just has this "mental quirk" that makes him sure he knows the way to go ... while causing him to forget he's yet to give anyone accurate directions.

The point is that there are "Earls" (males and females) you interact with at work and elsewhere. Knowing what you are likely dealing with, you can even enjoy his enthusiasm. As with Earl giving directions while you're driving, mostly listen, smile to yourself, don't argue and then go the way you believe is best. Otherwise, you'll find your way to a place with considerable stress.

One exception is when someone "in authority" (supervisor, police officer, etc.) is "acting like Earl." When you don't have an alternative to suggest that she or he will listen to, do what she says. Just keep thinking, "Earl .... Earl ..... Earl."

Tip # 3.

The more immediate cause of uncomfortable emotions is stress. (Note: It might be stress that's hidden so we don't realize it's there; but it is stress and most definitely present inside of us.) That stress comes from thoughts we have that are unknown to us. With even a beginning grasp on what that means, you have a strong advantage communicating.

Now, in situations where you said or implied something like, "You made me feel (some uncomfortable emotion) when you (did or didn't do whatever)." say something like this instead: "When (whatever happened), I thought something that gave me stress. I don't know what it was." Example: Before you would have angrily said, "I was embarrassed when Sue kept her appointment and I didn't have the report she promised to do for me." Instead of that, now you might say, "Yesterday when Sue came by she didn't have the report. Whatever it was I thought about that made a lot of stress for me."

Understandably with so little explanation here doing what I've described might make little sense. Before you judge whether or not it will help, give it a chance to work in a relationship that's slightly strained and not important to you. With practice and confidence, consider applying one or more of the tips to more stressed interpersonal communications and important relationships.

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