Remember the slogan from President Clinton’s 1992 campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid?” That slogan was posted in each campaign office to remind the staff what Bill Clinton wanted them to focus on, and what was important to the voters. Analogously, I have heard from many subscribers that what they were interested in, and what was important to them, were articles pertaining to forming and maintaining a relationship with others.
Connecting with people is really the cornerstone of success. “It’s the connection, stupid!” may be a sign that you want to place on your desk or bathroom mirror in order to remember the importance of forming and maintaining good connections with others. However, this skill is not something that is specifically taught to most children. Often, it is not until a person reaches adulthood that they realize some people have an easier time making friends and working with others than they do. How many people do you know who are intelligent, maybe even brilliant, but are unsuccessful in their careers and/or family life? Why? Because they have difficulty maintaining warm and meaningful connections with others. The following is the first in a four part series that focuses on connecting and improving relationships with others.
FORMING NEW CONNECTIONS
Although you did not realize it at the time, you learned how to form connections with other people as a child. One of the most important lessons that you learned from your parents was about forming and maintaining relationships with others. If your parents had a large circle of friends, it now probably comes naturally for you to interact socially with others. If your parents had only a few close friendships, you may find that you form strong attachments with friends but have difficulty interacting with others (e.g., if you enter a room filled with people you don’t know). If you were taught by your parents to never talk to strangers, you may have problems talking to them now. You may also have trouble interacting with authority figures. It is important to consider the manner in which these lessons that you learned from your parents may continue to affect how you form and maintain connections with others.
If you spend some time on a playground, you will soon notice that children generally have less fear about playing with, talking to, or beginning to form a relationship with other children than the most aggressive salesman has about striking up a conversation with a stranger. Children naturally want to interact with other children. Although many of these initial relationships flounder and disintegrate, children are fearless about forming new relationships. However, if you followed the same child from his or her play in the sandbox with other 3 year olds to adolescence, you would see how that child’s socialization experiences impact his or her ability to form connections with others as an adolescent. Along with the lessons that you learned from your family, you also learned many lessons from your early social interactions with others. Did you frequently become the leader among your peers? Were there a series of negative experiences in your childhood (e.g., being picked on by a bully) that led you to be cautious about interacting with other children? Were you frequently in the “popular” clique, or did you always find yourself the object of other children’s taunts?. The lessons that you learned from your family and your experiences with other children likely will dictate how you connect with others as an adult. Therefore, it is important to examine how these socialization experiences impact and shape how you function in the world today.
When assessing your ability to connect with others, you should first examine your patterns of interaction with strangers. Do you avoid eye contact with people that you do not know? Are you reluctant to place yourself in a room full of strangers? Can you easily strike up a conversation with someone that you have just met? Forming connections with others can be quite difficult if you’ve lost (or never had) the reckless abandon about interacting with peers that comes naturally to most children.
If it is difficult for you to form new relationships with others, here are a few suggestions to help you form new and better connections in the future:
Decide that improving your ability to connect with others is a priority in your life. This ability is critical to success in your social, business, and family life. However, you will never improve your ability to connect with others unless you decide that it is time to make changes in your life.
Take the time to consider the lessons that you learned from your parents about interacting with others (particularly strangers and new friends). What positive and negative lessons did you learn? How have these lessons impacted you as an adult? Were there influences from authority figures in your childhood and adolescence that conveyed different messages than those you learned from your parents (e.g., a teacher that helped you work out problems with other children)?
Examine what your socialization experiences were with other children. Did you make friends easily? Were you popular or did you often feel isolated and on the outside? How did you cope when your attempts at friendship with another child? If you still maintain friendships with people that you grew up with, ask them to describe your behavior. It may prove to be an enlightening experience.
Keep a journal for several weeks that focuses on your interactions with people you don’t know or have just met. Do you maintain eye contact with others? Can you engage in “chit-chat” with store clerks? How do you begin and end conversations with new business contacts or parents of your child(ren)’s friends?
Divide these observations into “successful experiences” and “areas that need improvement”.
Develop a battle plan for becoming more comfortable and successful in interacting with people that you have just met. It may start with simply maintaining eye contact as you pay for something that you purchase at a store. If conversation with others is difficult, develop a list of mundane topics (e.g., the weather or an upcoming event at your child’s school) that you could talk about with someone you have just met. Look for things that you can use as a compliment with someone you have just met. A compliment is a great way to strike up a conversation. “That’s a great shirt you are wearing. Where did you get it?” or “I really like what you have done to your house since you moved in,” or “I’ve always wanted a car like yours. How does it run?” Any of these comments and questions can serve as the launching pad for a brief conversation that may lead to the formation of a new relationship.
Think about the attitude that you generally display when you’re with others. Are you a “positive person” that people are naturally attracted to, or are you a “doom and gloom person” that most people would turn away from? Remember that a sunny disposition will cause others to want to interact with you. It will also have a myriad of other positive effects on your life and health.
Begin to look at people you don’t know as potential new friends or business contacts rather than strangers who you don’t need or don’t want to know. Everyone has an interesting aspect of their life if you take the time to ask them about it.
As your ability to interact and form connections with new people improves, you will want to improve your existing relationships as well. That will be the focus of my next article.
As always, thank you for subscribing to the Pinnacle Perspective!
Copyright © 1999- 2012 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.
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