How to Be Proactive in Your Relationships
Habit No. 1: Be Proactive "If you’re proactive, you don’t have to wait for circumstances or other people to create perspective-expanding experiences. You can consciously create your own."
–– Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Researchers have found that as human beings we are only capable of maintaining up to 150 meaningful relationships, including five primary, close relationships.
This holds true even with the illusion of thousands of “friends” on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you think carefully about your real interactions with people, you’ll find the five close/150 extended relationships rule holds true.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Tony Robbins, the personal development expert, and others argue that your attitudes, behavior, and success in life are the sum total of your five closest relationships. So, toxic relationships, toxic life.
With this in mind, it’s essential to continue to develop relationships that are positive and beneficial. But in today’s distracted world, these relationships won’t just happen.
We need to be proactive about developing our relationships.
My current favorite book on personal development is Tim Ferriss’s excellent, though long, 700+ page book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
At one point, Ferriss quotes retired women’s volleyball great Gabby Reece:
I always say that I’ll go first…. That means if I’m checking out at the store, I’ll say “hello” first. If I’m coming across somebody and make eye contact, I’ll smile first. [I wish] people would experiment with that in their life a little bit: be first, because – not all times, but most times – it comes in your favor... The response is pretty amazing…. I was at the park the other day with the kids.
Oh, my God. Hurricane Harbor [water park]. It’s like hell. There were these two women a little bit older than me. We couldn’t be more different, right? And I walked by them, and I just looked at them and smiled. The smile came to their face so instantly. They’re ready, but you have to go first because now we’re being trained in this world [to opt out] – nobody’s going first anymore.
Be proactive: start the conversation
I agree. I was excited to read this principle because I adopted this by default years ago, and it’s given me the opportunity to hear the most amazing stories and develop the greatest relationships you can imagine.
On airplanes, in the grocery store, at lunch, I’ve started conversations that led to trading heartfelt stories, becoming friends, or doing business together. A relationship has to start someplace, and that can be any place in any moment.
Be proactive: lose your fear of being rejected
I also love this idea because it will help overcome one of the main issues I hear from my training and coaching clients – the fear of making an initial connection with someone they don’t know.
This fear runs deep for many people and may be hardwired in humans. We are always observing strangers to determine if we can trust them – whether they have positive or dangerous intent.
In addition, we fear rejection. Our usual negative self-talk says something like, If I start the conversation, if I make eye contact, if I smile, what if it’s not returned?
What if I’m rejected, embarrassed, or ignored by no response? I’ll feel like an idiot, a needy loser.
Our conclusion is: It’s better not to try, not to risk anything. But the truth is, the people we are thinking this about are probably thinking the same thing. If one of us breaks the ice, the relationship can begin immediately.
Be proactive: start with a positive tone and attitude
In my communication workshops, I say that each verbal encounter has three elements: words, tone, and attitude. Sometimes the tone and the attitude mean much more than the words themselves.
This means that in an initial contact, it almost doesn’t matter what exactly you say, but more the way you say it. A smile, a sense of openness, and attitude of friendliness count much more.
Dale Carnegie said this plays a critical role in how to make friends and influence people.
In the water park example, Gabby Reese didn’t talk with the other moms, but easily could have started a bonding conversation with, “Tell me again, why do we put ourselves through this?” Everyone would laugh, any walls of resistance would fall, and the talk about the pool and the kids would take off.
From there, they might have found common interests and values and scheduled Mom’s Wine Night Out. But someone had to go first.
This is true of almost every new relationship we have. Someone had to be proactive…to make eye contact…to pick up the phone for a call…to schedule lunch…to be the first to apologize.
Be proactive: pay attention in the moment
As Reece noted, today, we choose to opt out. If we have a free moment, we look down at our phones instead of looking at the people around us. We never know who is nearby and what relationship might have passed us by because we didn’t look or we didn’t take the initiative to go first.
I had this same thought two years ago when I spoke at a student leadership conference at a major university. After my talk, I walked outside the building where some thirty students were standing or walking, just looking at their phones. Seriously, not one person was looking up. (Later, I wished I’d grabbed my phone to take a photo, but maybe that would have been ironic.)
My thought at the time, since so many relationships start with “love at first sight” or at least direct eye contact, was “what if your soul mate just walked by and you missed it because you were looking down at your phone?”
But students aren’t the only ones. We are all distracted by the noise of life in a digital world, where we swim in a sea of images, videos, and data that drags us like a riptide away from people and relationships.
It’s time to make a proactive commitment to engaging other people where we find them. Opting in instead of opting out.
Be proactive! Why not go first?
Writing this weekly blog is my way of going first with you.
P.S. –– To talk with me, please use my contact page.