How to build more meaningful and engaging relationships
Recently, I participated in a master class on managing our emotions. Ultimately, what it became was a class on building healthy habits.
Each of us went through the process of identifying our goals for healthy habits as it came to our emotions. We imagined a version of ourselves that we aspired to. In my case, I imagined being a more curious coach as self, parent, and leader. To have deeper and more meaningful relationships, inside and out.
As part of the course, I spent a lot of time thinking about what stood between where I am and the version of me that I aspired to. Ultimately, it came down to the default patterns. Reactive conditioning, instead of purposeful intention.
To move towards purposeful intention, we must interrupt our autopilot. Each of us may respond to different techniques for helping us build new habits. One that was suggested was a mnemonic or acronym to outline steps we can remember.
I am a huge fan of acronyms. Done right, they can be easy to remember.
In this case, I wanted to identify steps that would allow me to better engage with myself and others. As someone who wants to help, and am often approached when help is needed, I tend to go into problem solving mode very quickly.
Recently, I’ve realized that love was often modeled in my home via “acts of service.” Frequently, those acts were teachable moments. It was seen as loving to help someone – even if they didn’t ask for it.
The reality is that most people don’t really need us to solve for them, or turn everything into a teachable moment. They may need us to listen to an idea they already have. They may want some additional context to make their own decisions. There is rarely a single response to the multitude of needs a given person or team may have.
What steps would help interrupt the problem solving auto response, and provide an opportunity to better understand how someone needs us to engaged?
Be a BuILDeR of relationships
There are five steps to interrupting our automatic response and choosing from the myriad of possible engagement options.
B – Breathe
When attempting to interrupt an automatic response, taking a deep breath can be a great first step. If we are tempted to jump right in, just pause and breathe. It gives a moment to hesitate and engage the pre-frontal cortex. We are then more likely to remember and follow the remaining steps.
I – Inquire with curiosity
Have you ever started problem solving with someone or telling them something you thought was relevant, only to hear “I know.” We may assume we know why someone is engaging us, but we won’t know for sure unless we ask. Ask questions with a sense of curiosity and really wanting to understand their situation and need.
L – Listen to understand
Our brains are fascinating, but can sometimes be frustrating. We are constantly filling in gaps, creating meaning, and seeing patterns. While this can be helpful, it means we may start solving and preparing to answer while someone else is talking. We listen to respond, rather than to understand another’s perspective. Instead of replying, maybe go back to inquire to ask a follow-up question to gain a better understanding.
D – Discern my role
In every conversation, we likely have thoughts and ideas regarding what’s being discussed. Suggestions or relevant anecdotes we think could help. One, some or NONE of them may be relevant, depending on our role. Going back to the inquiry, why is this person here and engaging with us? If we aren’t sure, we can always ask what role they’d like us to play. Ultimately, if we want to improve engagement, we should remember to stay in our lane.
R – Reply or write
But but but! What about those stories? What about the great advice we had queued up?
Just because we have thoughts and ideas does not mean we have to express them. We can consciously and deliberately choose our response, including no response. In my case, I might have an idea with a lot of energy behind it that feels like it needs to get out. So I write.
I take notes during conversations, which helps slow down my thinking, allows me to get thoughts out of my head (instead of my mouth), and selectively choose what – if anything – I share in a reply. In some cases, I will have loads of notes. If this person is not yet ready to solve, I have them for a potential follow up conversation when they are.
From habit to practice
With deliberate steps and a handy acronym to remember, it’s time to practice. New habits take repetition and intention, and rarely come easy. If they were easy, we would have done them already.
To help facilitate a change, it may be worth sharing our intentions with those around us. In my case, I tend to let my direct reports know when I’m trying something new in our interactions. I’ll share the insight I’ve gained and what I will be attempting in my new habit.
The reason for this is two-fold. The first is for support, accountability, and feedback during habit-building. If a few people know about a new habit, it helps maintain commitment to change. Later, they can be approached to see how it’s been going. In some cases, they may be enlisted to help identify triggers or signal when they see a behavior.
The other reason is we can create confusion when we change habits. If our habits include engagement with others, changes may generate upset or frustration. Given the move to remote work and social distancing, suddenly engaging differently may result in assumptions that something is wrong with us or the relationship.
With support and feedback methods in place, we can go into our first interaction, committed to being a BuILDeR of relationships.
* * *
Breathe, Inquire, Listen, Discern, and Reply/Write can certainly help create more engagement and deeper relationships with others. However, each of us have our own struggles and best methods to interrupt our automatic response to change behaviors.