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Relationships May Be Our Most Valuable Accomplishments

When we talk about establishing or improving human relationships, we’re treading on sacred ground. For many of us, personal and family relationships are the most precious parts of our lives. It is often said with some wisdom that we tend to appreciate our relatives and friends more and more as we age, perhaps because we see that enduring happiness and satisfaction often come to us when our relationships with them are good. And on the job, establishing and sustaining good relationships can make the difference between operational efficiency and backlogs, job satisfaction and boredom, profit and loss. We realize that some relationships are virtually indispensable for us, and for the larger social contexts in which we live and work. Most of us probably can agree that things go better for us humans when things go well between us.

Reflect for a moment on how we evolved, and how most of us live today. Our ancestors lived in extended, multi-generational families, often in villages and towns with other families with whom we interacted every day. We evolved our language and our social behavior under those conditions. We learned how to handle conflict, live with other genders, express appreciation, and cooperate for survival and prosperity. We humans learned these things living in relative crowds, compared to the average American family size today of 3.13 people, down from 3.7 people a few years ago. In a family with two parents, an average head count of 3.13 means barely more than one child, on average. This is social isolation compared to how we evolved under conditions when smart, small, agile primates in cooperative groups could survive around large, stronger and faster predators. Being social animals gave us strength.

Maybe this has always been true, but these days the topic of relationships seem to have become a big one in personal and professional conversations, often seeming to involve complication and pain. Our popular music describes happy and unhappy relationships, our movies dramatize how people relate to one another, and therapists spend enormous amounts of time helping people have better personal and professional relationships. Our happy and productive work lives depend on having at least amicable, and ideally mutually enhancing relationships. We need to have good connections with others. And yet, we struggle, so often distracted by one or more relationships that are lacking.

>>Register for the upcoming webinar: Relationships May Be Our Most Valuable Accomplishments

As a thought experiment, try listing all the important relationships that you have at work and in your private life, by name. Now check off the ones that you consider to be good, or better than most of the others. What is it about these relationships that makes them good? Why are you happy or satisfied with these relationships, and not so much with others? Can you identify the characteristics of those relationships that make them good? Taking a few moments to describe what’s good about each of our relationships is an important first step toward improving all of them. At that point, we might pause for a moment to feel grateful for the good ones. Not all of our relationships are good, and sometimes they come and go. So, it can make us a little happier to feel gratitude for the best ones.

Now, take another look at your list and check off the relationships that need most improvement, the ones that you do not consider to be particularly good at the moment. Are there some? Most people have a few, at work or in their personal lives. Reflect on how they would look if they could be transformed into good ones?

By clarifying what characteristics make some relationships good, and others not so good, we can sometimes pinpoint what needs to change more easily. The contrasts between the best and the not-so-good may help us take a more objective look at what’s going well and what’s not, and what we can do to improve. In a professional context, we might call this a gap analysis, and it can put us on the path to improvement, which we’ll discuss in a follow-up blog post and in our upcoming webinar.

Perhaps most immediately, when we think about our best relationships, and what is good about them, we will see more than ever how truly valuable they are. We may come to a greater realization of how so much of our lives depend on how we relate to others, and how grateful we are when those human connections are authentic, positive, and humane, and productive.

Written by Dr. Carl Binder, CEO of The Performance Thinking Network

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