Why you need to know how to manage your relationships

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2018 winners of the award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

Register for the 2019 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards at www.employeerecommended.com.

Do you have relationships where you feel you’re trying harder than the other person?

The key word in the above question is “trying.” Behind the word come thoughts, feelings and expectations that trying will achieve a desired outcome. Extending yourself to another person over time with the other person not reciprocating in kind often sends a message to stop trying. Similarly, when someone opens themselves up to a new relationship but hears they’re being judged negatively, they stop trying.

There are many reasons why people don’t reciprocate or get a good start with respect to building a healthy and safe relationship, such as gaps in trust, interests, priorities, or value of the relationship. When a person feels rejected and stops trying this can result in a variety of emotions, from rejection, to hurt, anger, and sometimes even relief.

Whatever the reason, the typical outcome is two people miss an opportunity to develop a mature relationship – one that both of them value.

Relationship management is hard for most of us. Why? Because we have never taken the course called Relationship Management 101. Many factors, such as gender, education, age, diversity, childhood experiences, social status and support systems influence our behaviour in relationships outside our awareness.

We all are unique, and we all have vulnerabilities. Whether we want to share or acknowledge them influences how we behave in relationships at home and at work. Based on my experience working with people over the years, it seems that how effectively a person uses the micro skill of relationship management can determine their overall mental health and happiness. Gaps in relationship management skills are perhaps why so many people in our country are lonely.

Awareness

There are three kinds of relationships: those that are positive, safe and feel good; those that are not; and those that we haven’t yet established.

Relationship management starts with being aware of what relationships are positive, not so positive, or those we want but feel are missing. For the ones that aren’t so positive to continue, it’s of value to understand the benefit for maintaining them or figuring out how to better manage them. Once we accept why we need or want a relationship, it’s up to us to determine what we’re going to do.

Accountability

Successful and fulfilling relationships typically require two motivated people who are clear on the type of relationship they’re in and their expectations.

To work, relationships require trust, empathy and energy. Ultimately, all we can control are our behaviour and actions. But we can’t make another person like us or want to have a relationship with us.

Once we accept that in our society we all have free will to decide who we want to have a relationship with, relationship management is the art of balancing facts and emotions. It begins with awareness and accepting what we can control. Sometimes we need to cut loose a not-so-positive relationship, so we have the energy to find a positive one. Often, most of us forget that some of the best relationships in life are those with people we haven’t met yet. Being open to this possibility creates opportunity.

Action

A few coaching tips for relationship management:

Relationship monitoring – Most important relationships have some conflict and require energy and investment in time to develop and maintain. What can negatively impact one relationship is when another relationship takes all your energy. By paying attention to where you’re spending your relationship energy you can manage your expectations through open and honest communication as to where you are and what you’re doing.

Define your relationship expectations – When looking to maintain or build a relationship, be clear on your expectations and what you’re willing to do regardless of what the other person does. For example, you move into a new condo, next to a neighbour who seems to be grumpy. You decide to smile and say hello each time you see them, regardless of their lack of effort to return the gesture.

Develop your relationship management skills – Many of us have not learned how to self-advocate and develop and maintain a healthy and safe relationship. People can be taught a set of skills to develop relationships, to set boundaries, and to express their point of view. If you want to develop this skill set, do your own research by reviewing articles, videos or books that cover the topic of relationship building and relationship management. Or consider talking to an employee and family assistance professional to brainstorm some solutions. While many resources are available, there are no shortcuts. It takes time, commitment and practice, but the rewards are worth it.

You can find all the stories in this series at: tgam.ca/workplaceaward