It i’s true that another person’’s feelings towards you have nothing to do with you.
But it’s also true that you can improve your relationships. People like people who make them feel heard and respected.
So, in another way, their feelings have everything to do with what you do.
When someone treats us in a way we perceive to be negative, it’s not always easy to respond in a loving way. The ego wants to defend itself. This is natural, but practicing mindfulness will give you the ability to pause before reacting, thereby giving you the power to change your relationships for good.
What is mindfulness? According to Jan Chozen Bays, How to Train a Wild Elephant, it is “deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you– in your body, heart, and mind. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement.”
There are, of course, many different practices you might take up to improve your ability to be mindful and non-reactionary. But let’s start small, with three simple but high impact practices.
Three Simple Mindfulness Practices that will Improve Your Relationships:
Better Than You Found Them
Look for ways to leave spaces tidier than you found them.
Listen Like a Sponge
Mindfulness in action: holding a core of stillness within.
Find something nice to say. Be genuine.
Let’s go into more detail regarding each of these mindfulness practices. How exactly will each of them help improve your relationships?
Mindfulness Practice: Better Than You Found Them
Most people will clean up after themselves. In fact, this behavior is the social expectation, so much so that we actually notice an outlier.
When a person leaves a mess behind everyone else notices. This is a quick way to lose points in relationships… unless you’re an adorable little baby, of course.
People also notice outliers in the other direction. It is the expectation to help clean up any mess you might have made, but what if you took it a step further and helped clean up other people’s messes? In a dinner party this could look like taking initiative to do the dishes for your host, and doing them well. At a work party this might look like staying back to help the clean up crew finish faster.
To be an outlier is to stand out. Standing out as someone who is helpful and considerate is a good way to generate feelings of appreciation towards you, which will begin to tip the relationship scales in your favor.
Listen Like a Sponge
There is a Buddhist recitation for invoking compassion that perfectly illustrates the reason for this practice: “We know that by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other.”
Think about a time when you felt really heard. A time when you could tell the person you were speaking to was fully engaged in what you had to say. What did it feel like to know that that person obviously wanted to know what was on your mind/in your heart? Can you remember how you felt towards that person?
As a woman who’s been on a lot of dates, I can tell you from experience that a good way to endear yourself to the other person is to pay attention to what he’s saying. Ask questions. Be interested.
Yes, being interested is a choice.
Maybe the topic they’re going on about is not something you know much about— in this case, ask questions without interrupting. Maybe they’re talking about a hobby you’d never personally enjoy— in this case, listen for, or ask questions to learn, where their passion stems from. Be curious. Most importantly, suspend judgement. Instead of thinking, “Oh I hate when people talk about cars,” think of yourself as a detective on a mission to discover why cars are important to them.
Then take it a step further and see if you can’t ask enough questions and listen closely enough to be able to put yourself in their shoes and understand their enthusiasm. I swear to you that it is possible.
Now think of a time when you did not feel heard. Think of a time when someone diverted their eyes when you were in the middle of your sentence. Think of a time when someone interrupted or bulldozed over what you were trying to express. Think of a time when someone was looking at their phone or computer screen while you were trying to tell them something important to you. Can you remember how you felt towards that person?
If you’re like most of us, situations like those will have made you feel, well, not good. Maybe you felt embarrassed, maybe you felt angry, maybe somewhere deep down you thought “I’m not worth listening to.” Can we agree that simply NOT making a person feel this way is a step in the right direction?
Now take it a step further, and listen intently. While she’s speaking, make her feel focused on by keeping your eyes on hers and remarking/repeating/asking questions where appropriate.
In my experience, this is one of the best ways to improve ANY relationship.
Mindfulness Practice: True Compliments
If you’re not accustomed to giving compliments, this one might feel strange at first read. You might be thinking, “What if I don’t have a compliment? What, do you want me to just make something up?”
No; being disingenuous with your compliments is the last thing you’d want to do if you want to improve your relationships.
So what if you don’t have a compliment?
Look or listen more closely.
Assume that the person is trying their best: in terms of dress, storytelling, social skills, work performance, etc. It’s easier to compliment someone when you make this assumption, because it naturally elicits feelings of empathy, regardless of whether you agree with their pairing of shirt and pants or not.
When you empathize, you are being open. When you empathize, you are suspending judgement. Therefore, the act of empathizing with another person automatically allows you to be more positive, which will allow you to see more things to compliment.
Make a conscious effort to find something to compliment. If you aren’t comfortable giving compliments at all, start by aiming to give a compliment each day. You can also set a couple alarms on your phone so that you are sure to carve out time to find things to compliment. The point is to start conditioning yourself to naturally look for things to compliment in your everyday interactions.
In addition to making the other person feel seen and making their day a little brighter, you’re increasing their affinity for you. People like people who make them feel good about themselves.
Not to mention, the simple act of looking for compliments makes you a more positive, likeable person.
In summary, improving your relationships can be a matter of little mindfulness practices.
If you’re serious about improving your relationship(s), choose one of these practices (or try them all) and give yourself reminders to practice them until they become second nature.
Reminders can be alarms on your phone, sticky notes on your mirror, or even the string on the finger. Try them on everyone, not just the relationship(s) you’re seeking to improve.
Mindfulness practices take, well, practice.
But keep it up and sooner or later you’ll be recognized as a joy to have around, and isn’t that what we’d all like for any relationship— to be around someone we enjoy?