“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

— George Bernard Shaw

The people you surround yourself with influence more than your behaviors. Your relationships determine who you will become (or not).

Even something as simple as changing your seat changes how you work.

That’s why, every Friday, an elementary school teacher asks their students where they want to sit next week. But she wants to find out more than just who they want to sit next to. This teacher is looking for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who can’t think of anyone to request?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

A straightforward question unveils weak and broken relationships.

It can help identify those who are struggling to connect with others. Or who’s been bullied and who’s doing the bullying.

As Glennon Doyle Melton explains here, her son’s teacher has been analyzing seating patterns since Columbine. This brilliant educator knows that issues — such as violence — begin with inner loneliness.

Relationships Matter More than You Think

“Don’t ask me who’s influenced me. A lion is made up of all the lambs he’s digested, and I’ve been reading all my life.” — Giorgos Seferis

Relationships are instrumental in helping people succeed. Having a strong social support can determine if young people graduate from high school (or not).

Disconnection — the lack of strong relationships — can derail your path.

The “Don’t Quit on Me” study focused on understanding more about how, when and why these relationships matter. And what it takes to provide the right support at the right time.

The study identified four types of social support: emotional, informational, appraisal, and instrumental.

Though the four are critical, the emotional (love and caring) and instrumental (actions providing specific help) support acting in tandem are most likely to increase one’s success.

Having a stable point person (the anchoring relationship) is essential, but it’s not enough. It requires a web of support with different skills, availability, and ability to provide the four types of social support — family, caring adults inside and outside of work, and peers.

The power of relationships is vital throughout adulthood too.

Lasting and positive relationships drive fulfillment.

Negative or broken relationships have damaging effects on our health, personal happiness, and life expectancy. Positive relationships, based on trust, respect, and love not only can lengthen your life and make you happier, but also reduce your chances of getting sick.

We are social animals.

Knowing that you can count on those who love you increases self-confidence, a feeling that you are not alone on this planet.

What about you?

Exercise: Map Your Relationships

“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” —

Michael J. Fox

This simple exercise will help you understand and reflect on the power of your current relationships. (You can do it now or after you finish reading this piece).

Your success depends on your relationships. Start by understanding how strong they are.
  1. Print a copy of the scaffold above.
  2. On a piece of paper, list all the people that play an essential role in your life (both personally and professionally).
  3. Write all the names around the “Me” circle (that’s you).
  4. Now draw a line to connect each name to you. Choose a specific type of line depending on the strength of the relationship according to the references (i.e.: ‘unbreakable’ use three lines, for “weak’ use a dashed line).
  5. Now reflect on all the relationships, what’s the story? What have you uncovered? Why are some ‘links’ broken or weak?
  6. Categorize your relationships into two groups: those that matter and those that don’t. This is not about who you like or not, but who can help you (or not) achieve your goals.
  7. Reflect on the strength of all the relationships that are critical to your success (emotional, functional, networking, etc.). How can you leverage unbreakable relationships? Why are some relationships broken or weak? What can you do about it?
  8. It’s OK to accept that some relationships will be weak or broken forever. But don’t give up on those that do matter without trying first.

When you gain clarity, everything feels easier.

This exercise is powerful. Be honest with yourself. Having a clear assessment of your relationships provides clarity and will move you into action.

You can redo the exercise every three months and monitor your progress.

Seven Ways to Build Stronger Relationships

“If you want to go somewhere, it is best to find someone who has already been there.” — Robert Kiyosaki

1. Challenge Your Bias

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” 
― C.G. Jung

Our brain is lazy and hardwired by our beliefs. Rather than changing our views, when exposed to new data and opinions, we just see what we want. We validate what we already believe in.

Your relationships are mirrors that reflect what you are missing.

Let’s say that your plane crashes in the desert and you have 20 objects with you — a lighter, a newspaper, half bottle of whiskey, a mirror, etc. Which ones are critical and which will make things worse? And how will they help you survive and get rescued?

I have facilitated survival exercises many times with various teams. And the learning is always the same: teams make much better decisions than individuals.

Surrounding yourself with people that are different to you will challenge your beliefs and make you smarter. But first, you have to become aware of your bias and learn to neutralize it.

2. It Takes Two to Tango

“When you have wit of your own, it’s a pleasure to credit other people for theirs.” 
― Criss Jami

Most people take their relationships for granted. They assume that the other person will always be there or will take care of things for them. That’s a usual mistake.

A relationship is the result of two people working together to create something new.

Building that foundation is a shared responsibility. I always abide by the 50/50 rule. When something is not working, rather than blame the other part, focus on your 50% responsibility. What can you do to improve the relationship?

3. Make the First Move

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” — Donald Miller

Building on the above, when a relationship is weak or broken, most people expect the other part to take the first step. Especially, when hierarchy plays an important part.

Leaders speak up and address tensions rather than just expect others to do so.

If you are having a less but ideal relationship with your boss, don’t wait for her/ him to address it. Making the first move is okay. Contrary to most people’s beliefs, being the first to speak doesn’t put you in a weak position.

4. Learn from Your Enemies

“His supporters will push him to disaster unless his opponents show where the dangers are.” — Walter Lippmann

To succeed in life, your ‘enemies’ play a critical part too. Those who like you and appreciate you are not the only relationships you need. Don’t disregard the people that hate you, disagree with you, or simply ignore you.

Your enemies uncover your blind spots.

That’s why most people avoid those who think differently to them. Your enemies test your ideas, beliefs, and convictions. Consider them when mapping your relationships.

5. Don’t Put All the Eggs in One Basket

“During your struggle society is not a bunch of flowers, it is a bunch of cactus.” 
 — Amit Kalantri

One relationship cannot provide everything you wish for. Sometimes people are unhappy at work because they expect to find happiness in the wrong place.

Learn to accept the limits and potential of each relationship.

When coaching teams, I hear a lot of “I hate my boss.” That feels wrong to me. You are not supposed to either love or hate your boss. Work is functional.

If you are not clear what to expect from each relationship, you will get frustrated very easily. There other relationships that can complement what you can get from a specific one: mentorships, coaching, friendship, after-work activities, etc.

6. Don’t Network, Build Relationships

“Create an environment that is conducive to your emotional and personal growth. Surround yourself with caring and positive people who support you, and reflect who you want to be.” — Steve Maraboli

There’s nothing wrong with networking. But don’t confuse it with building relationships.

Networking is driven by individualistic needs; relationships are built on cooperation and co-creation.

Relationships are not about what can ‘I’ get, but can ‘we’ achieve together.

7. Find Your Partner in Crime

“To become a better you, remember to be grateful to people who have contributed to making you who you are today.” — Israelmore Ayivor

Every “Mastermind” has a “Sidekick” as I wrote here on how to build a Band of Misfits. Batman has Robin. Danny Ocean has Rusty Ryan.

This is the most critical relationship you can build in life.

A partner in crime is your alter-ego who both complements and magnifies your impact.

My wife has been my ‘partner in crime’ for over two decades. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve those things people thought were impossible.

The same applies to every job I had. I always had a sidekick who balanced my personality and skills. But, most importantly, we fed off each other’s passions to achieve a shared dream.

Who’s your partner in crime?

Relationships are more than personal connections. They are the foundation for you to build upon.

If the foundation is weak, whatever you try to build will collapse. Become more aware of your relationships. How strong are they? Which ones matter to you? Which are critical and which you shouldn’t care about?

Leverage the power of others. Your success depends on the strength of your relationships. Not just on your individual capacity.

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Originally published at medium.com