How to Strengthen Your Relationships

Learn how to improve your relationships with others by focusing on their strengths.

Do you find yourself frequently frustrated with those around you?  Wouldn’t it be helpful to find a way to improve these challenging relationships? While you can’t directly change the people in your life, you do have the ability to change the way you see them. This can lead to powerful shifts in your relationships.

When those around us are not living up to our expectations, it’s easy to hyperfocus on their weaknesses. In fact, as a survival mechanism, our brains are really adept at detecting anything that is not going according to our desired plan. At one time in ancient history, this tendency to home in on “problems” helped people identify risks and danger. In today’s times, however, this negativity bias can cause us to see the world, and people, in an unfairly negative light because we don’t notice what is working well. Our brains are playing tricks on us, by not seeing people in a truly accurate or balanced way. This leads to a lot of misunderstanding and conflict with others.

The reality is that the people around us typically have a number of strengths and very positive qualities that we simply don’t pay much attention to. If we make the effort to recognize and celebrate their favorable attributes, it can cause a dramatic change in our relationship dynamics.

When was the last time you made a point to reflect on the strengths of others? Chances are, it’s been a while….

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Set aside at least 10 minutes to sit quietly for this exercise.
  2. Grab a pencil and at least two sheets of paper.
  3. Identify a challenging relationship in your life.
  4. Brainstorm all of the strengths and positive attributes of this person that you can.
  5. Write them down.
  6. Recall scenarios in which this person added value, and make sure to include whatever strengths were useful in those situations.
  7. Once you have a good list, select a few of this person’s strengths that you would like to keep in the forefront of your mind during your future interactions. Circle those top 5 strengths you selected.
  8. Make a plan to acknowledge these attributes the next time you see this person. For example, you could simply choose to give the person a compliment about their positive qualities. Or you could go further by asking for assistance with something that plays to his/her strengths.

Keep in mind:

  • Don’t judge any of this person’s strengths as small or unimportant– just brainstorm any attributes that could be positive or might add value.
  • Be creative in framing qualities as strengths. For example, if your coworker often drives you crazy with his excessive attention to detail, imagine a situation in which that quality would be very useful, maybe even crucial, and include that on your list.
  • Think hard about how this person’s strengths may differ from yours. Often times, these differences are a source of conflict, but we can consciously choose to make them an opportunity for collaboration.

This exercise can help you recognize other people’s strengths that often fly under our radar. To balance your brain’s negativity bias, make a commitment to spend at least as much energy noting the gifts of those around you as you spend thinking about their shortcomings. If we make a point to notice and even celebrate the positive attributes of those around us, we can find new ways to connect and collaborate with those whose strengths differ from ours.

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About Julie Gates

I am a certified life coach who specializes in personal growth. My unique background in positive psychology, public health and clinical medicine supports me in helping my clients thrive and flourish through life’s changes.