Thursday, June 25, 2009

Are you contributing your share?

I subscribe to an interesting Work/Life Balance newsletter, and I particularly enjoyed today's post about the give and take of personal relationships. Sometimes I feel like I give so much to my friendships and relationships, but don't always receive back the amount of attention, care, concern, time, and gratitude that I wish I could. Yes we are all busy and distracted by our personal lives and responsibilities, but some people are so focused on only talking and thinking about themselves and their own needs, that they end up neglecting those around them. So this article resonated with me, reminded me that I still need to GIVE more than I take, and I wanted to share it with all of you. It's a big long, but well worth the read. Enjoy! : )

Reach Out and Touch Someone
Personal relationships are an exchange; a trade. Each person is trading value received for value given. Are you contributing your share?
(Reading time 180 seconds)

One of the joys of personal relationships is that the more you are able to give to the relationship, the more you usually receive in return. There are two essential ways to contribute more to any relationship:

1. Be more Interested IN the other person.
2. Be more Interesting TO the other person.

Let’s talk first about #1: Being more interested IN the other person. Just as you want to share the things that are important to you with your friends and family - others want to do the same with you. And when something little or big makes us happy we want to talk about it. We hope our friends and family want to hear about it and be happy with our joy. Their doing so is essential to us considering them a friend.

As a result, one of the biggest values the other person wants from your relationship…is to know, by your words and actions, that you care about what is important to them - what interests them, motivates them and makes them happy.

When a relationship is good, and certainly when it is great, each person regularly feels and expresses interest, support and a joy for the things that bring the other person happiness. Being tuned-in to those things is central to what caring for someone means. It is also at the heart of how deep love reflects itself.

This is an important lesson I continue to learn.

My wife has always loved to garden. I on the other hand have never liked digging in the dirt and as a result paid little attention to her hobby. About three years ago the deer population near our home grew to the point that not a vegetable or flower could be grown, as the plant would be eaten to a nub before it could develop. For two years my wife stopped gardening. She missed it. This past spring she asked me if I would help her solve the problem. I agreed to install a small solar panel to power an electric fence around a portion of our yard in the hopes of keeping the deer out.

In doing so I took interest and got engaged in her hobby. Fortunately the deer were kept at bay and she has had a wonderful crop: tomatoes, squash, green beans, eggplant, herbs and flowers. I think even she had forgotten how much enjoyment and relaxation her gardening brought her. It clearly makes her happy.

And whether I am picking vegetables with her or just asking about the day’s harvest her renewed pleasure does give me great joy. I am still not digging in the dirt, but I am getting lots of personal satisfaction, smiles as well as delicious fresh vegetables from showing an interest in her gardening passion. My small investment of interest in her hobby continues to pay me back many times over.

But showing deep interest in someone doesn’t require you to put up solar panels or directly share the other person’s hobbies. Just by regularly asking about their interests you let that person know you care about what motivates and is important to them.

I was reminded of this as I viewed the many tributes to Tony Snow and Tim Russert after their deaths within weeks of each other. They were both popular national commentators who seemed very happy in their own lives and able to spread that happiness to others. Whatever they thought of Tony’s or Tim’s political views, individuals of all political stripes talked of how much they valued the relationship with each of them. The common theme was that these men had a keen awareness of the lives and interests of those they knew – from the doorman to the president. And they conveyed that interest. They asked about you, your life, your loved ones – and they really listened for your answer.

So how can you and I do the same and consistently contribute more value to our important relationships? Just let the other person KNOW through your words, observations and attitude that you care about their ambitions, goals, everyday joys and well being.

But you have to tell them. Caring deeply for someone’s happiness delivers little value unless expressed in words and actions. Your silence will not inform them. You might think, “We’ve been friends long enough” or “together long enough”…“that they should know I care.” Not really.

We all have our insecurities. Having the regular reinforcement of a positive tone and interested questions from someone you care for, means much more to the other person than you realize.

So today or tonight pick out someone you care for. When you see them, turn away from the TV or the emails you are answering and intentionally ask about their day, their work, their new car or their “garden” and listen with sincere curiosity.

This usually doesn’t take long. But short or long it shows you care and in most cases they will be pleased or relieved or happy in telling you. Be pleased, relieved or happy with them. When you do this you will be reinforcing their knowledge and confidence that you really care for them.

In the relationship exchange you will be offering more in trade. By making a small regular effort with your words, observations and attitude you will strengthen and deepen your value to the other person. This investment in them will almost always provide you with a very generous return - a more committed friend, respectful business associate or loving personal partnership.

Start today. Reach out and touch someone with meaningful focus and interested questions. Pay full attention when they talk. Add more to your life, by being more interested IN others.

And in an upcoming newsletter, we’ll explore some easy tips on being more interesting TO others.


Jim Bird

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