First of all, on a semi-related note, this Friday is Aunts and Uncles Day. It’s a great chance to show some love to your extended family.
Speaking of showing love, this week I’d like to share a few things you really should know about the people who are important to you, and how that information can help you strengthen your relationships. Think about your friends and family, and ask yourself:
What do they like to talk about?
A while back, during lunch with some coworkers, we got to discussing family gatherings. It was an interesting conversation, because it turned out that almost everyone was frustrated by the things their family did, and didn’t, discuss, but for very different reasons. Here’s a summary:
Coworker A: My siblings are all single and childless, so all we talk about is work and relationship drama.
Coworker B: You should hang out with my family. All we talk about is everyone else’s kids, and I don’t have any.
Coworker C: We talk about the kids all the time, too, and sometimes I wish I could talk about anything else-work, friends, whatever. I love my kids, but there are other things in my life.
Coworker D: My entire family is obsessed with sports, and I’m not, so I spend a lot of time just nodding and smiling.
Coworker B: I adore my nieces and nephews, and I do love hearing about them, but I wish people were half as interested in hearing about my vacation.
Coworker A: Last week I tried three times to tell my brother about my son’s soccer game, and finally gave up.
Coworker D: I pay attention to the sports talk, because it’s important to my family, but I wish they’d return the favor sometimes.
I think Coworker D really hit the nail on the head: we want people to care about things that are important to us. All four of my colleagues were frustrated because they felt marginalized in conversations. This doesn’t happen because others are trying to be hurtful, but simply because we don’t usually stop and analyze the flow of a conversation.
People want to be listened to, and to feel that what matters to them matters to others (or at least that they matter to others). Make a mental list of the things that are important or interesting to your friends and loved ones (consider family, social life, professional life, hobbies, etc.), and think about what they tend to bring up in conversation and what gets them animated. If you aren’t sure, ask them questions and discover their interests. Then be aware in conversations, and be sure to inquire, focus, and engage.
What do they like to do?
Just like conversations, activities should be balanced. Do you know how your nearest and dearest would prefer to spend a Friday night? If not, find out. If so, ask yourself how often you do those things with them. In general, it’s best to find activities that are fun for everyone, but sometimes it’s important to step outside of your comfort and interest zone for the sake of someone else, especially if they often do the same for you.
I don’t like shopping, but when my sister Audrey occasionally asks me to tag along and give my opinion, I do so with a smile. Why? Because I love my sister, and she wants me to share in an activity she enjoys. It’s the same reason that Audrey has accompanied me to a couple of fantasy and science fiction conventions. And, because we both approach each other’s activities with a positive attitude, we’ve both had more fun than we might have expected.
A word of caution, though: Since that positive attitude is key, don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re going to be miserable, because that’s more likely to strain a relationship than improve it. Also, be careful not to accidentally pressure someone else into that kind of scenario. For example, your camping trip will be a lot more fun without me. Trust me on this.
What don’t they like to do?
Knowing what your friends and family prefer to avoid in their day to day lives can give you lots of opportunities to be helpful and caring. My dislike of shopping is universal, and I used to absolutely dread going to the grocery store. When my sister Amy and I shared an apartment, she always took care of it, because she knew I couldn’t stand it. When Amy moved out, a friend of mine, remembering my aversion to this task, volunteered to do my shopping for me, since we lived relatively close. For him, it was a small thing. For me, it was huge.
When I moved into my house, my friend Carrie, who is an artist, picked out paint colors, curtains, rugs, and so on, because while I wanted the house to look right, I had neither the talent nor the inclination to really take on the project. When Audrey got engaged, I spent weeks researching, calling, and visiting wedding venues to narrow down literally dozens of options. She would have found the process torturous. I thought it was fun. My friend Jamie and I used to help each other clean our kitchens (same amount of work in the end, but better because we did it together).
Whether it’s a big or a little thing, helping someone with something they don’t want to do is a great way to show you care.
What else do you think it’s important to know? What do you wish people understood about you? Let’s chat!