1. Know your patterns
Whether we’re speaking to a potential client, reaching out to an old friend or getting to know a new love, it’s crucial we understand our own relationship patterns. These are our factory sections which, if left unchecked, create chaos in our connection with others.
Are you prone to overgiving? Are you someone who struggles to ask for support? Do you lone-wolf it and go it alone without asking for help? Or do you overwork, ignore your relationships, and then find yourself alone during birthdays and milestones?
By having deeper self-awareness around our relationship patterns, we arm ourselves with the information on what unhealthy behaviour is our default. Once we know this, we can change it. We can also become aware of which patterns cause a strong emotional response within us.
2. Know your triggers
While we have patterns, we also have emotional sore points in our interpersonal dynamics. For example, if we have a pattern of not asking for help, it’s likely we will then have an emotional trigger with a friend, brand sponsor, or fellow entrepreneur when we feel we have been giving to the relationship and not receiving in return.
When we know our triggers, we can critically and logically look at an upsetting situation and decide which part is our “stuff” and which part actually needs to be addressed with the other person. It also helps us to explain who we are and what we need. How we communicate this need will differ from relationship to relationship.
For example, asking for what we need from a friend will sound very different to when we voice this to a collaborator or an employee. The phrases, words, and emotions will differ. This is known as healthy social coding. We know what is appropriate in different types of relationships.
3. Master your emotions
The key to success in all relationships isn’t having perfect boundaries or an impeccable dating strategy. It’s about emotional regulation. In other words, having the ability to create a gap between feeling the trigger from an interaction and choosing your response. How often do we say reactive words in anger only to regret them later?
Perhaps you’ve done this when a comment on Instagram really got under your skin. You reacted, and did irreparable damage to the relationship (and perhaps to your reputation). Emotional regulation is often misunderstood, particularly in the entrepreneurial space. By being a “stoic” and maintaining your composure – in England we call this the “British stiff upper lip” – it’s possible you are bypassing what you are truly feeling.
To master our emotions we need to understand where the emotion came from. Feelings are feedback. And, it goes back to our experience as children. Did you have a critical teacher who called you out in front of class, leaving you feeling humiliated and angry? Is it possible that person who slid into your DMs had the same tone, and it reminded you of that event all those years ago? Get curious about the origin of your emotions. This is how we master them.
4. Take a flexible approach to boundaries
By following the steps above, you will now have a solid idea of what you need from your relationships, as well as what you will not tolerate. Here’s the tricky part, though. Setting a rock-solid boundary and laying down the law doesn’t exactly endear us to anyone. Aggressive boundary-setting says, “This is what I need, and what you need doesn’t matter.”
Whether we’re talking lovers, friends or clients, ruling with an iron fist won’t help us. Instead, take a softer approach to boundaries. Seek to understand the other person, and what caused them to speak or act in the way they did. It could be the situation rubbed up against core wounds for both of you, leaving you both triggered. Emotional triggers release stress hormones and temporarily intoxicate us, preventing us from thinking clearly. Simply put, we’re not our best selves when we’re triggered.
This is why it’s less about boundaries and more about a genuine desire to understand each other. Again, the words we use will change depending on the relationship. To our friend or lover we might say, “Hey, this reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid, and it was hard for me.” To a sponsor or collaborator, it may sound like, “I found this very difficult on a personal level. I’m certain we can find a way to move forward and continue to collaborate. Would you agree? Okay great, let’s talk about how to make that happen.”
5. Do the relationship-specific healing
Just as you hire a business coach to refine your business strategy and a nutritionist to eat the best foods for your body, it’s also important to find the right expert for your relationship healing. And yes, relationship healing is different from personal development and general coaching. It’s specific.
Find someone who will help you to dive deeper into where you’re currently at, what you need in relationships, and how to get you there. Consider seeing a coach or therapist one-to-one to work through any challenges you are experiencing in your personal or professional interactions.
My hope is these five steps helped you understand yourself at a deeper level, made you curious about your own relationship patterns, and gave you practical steps to improve your relationships in every area of your life. After all, true success is success on all levels.