‘Tis the season to make lists and resolutions. Let’s go with the flow and explore seven ways to help us improve our connections with each other.

  1. Don’t make it personal. By definition, we’re the center of our own worlds, so we tend to assume things are about us. When we don’t like what someone has said to us, we might think that they meant to hurt us. Most of the time, though, it’s about them – they were in a bad mood, they didn’t think a comment would be hurtful, or things just came out wrong. Any of those things could describe us, too. It makes life so much easier if we cut others some slack and assume basic goodwill while we determine what they meant.
  2. Be respectful. All of us deserve respect, regardless of occupation, social status, political leaning, net-worth, gender, etc. Being respected is a universal human need. It takes a truly strong person to listen to a different opinion with the intent to learn and to find common ground. Firing the f-word at others or slandering their parentage may give us a nice little “got-ya” hit in the moment, but will ultimately make things worse. No one listens well to our point of view after we attack them, just as we stop listening when they attack us.
  3. Check your facts. Much of communication is open to interpretation. It can be hard to separate what happened from what we think about it, but it’s crucial for getting along well. A good way to start is to consider what a camera or microphone would record – what specific actions occurred or words were said. Separating out the concrete, we can then consider several possible interpretations of the facts, not just the one that triggered us.
  4. Pause. Our first response is not always the most helpful long-term. Taking a moment before reacting will help us choose how best to respond. Only a few seconds can make a big difference in whether we’ll regret our response later.
  5. Set and keep good boundaries. Where are those lines that we don’t want crossed? If we don’t know, express, and consistently keep good boundaries, others will unknowingly cross them. When they do, we feel angry or hurt. Others can’t honor our limits if they don’t know them or if we are inconsistent in setting them. (If others don’t respect our clearly expressed boundaries, however, we need to take steps to distance ourselves from those folks.)
  6. Take action. If we don’t like the way we and/or others are being treated, we need to step up to help change things. The action can be as consuming as running for office, as concrete as helping deliver food to those who are hungry, or as simple as speaking up about bad behavior. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said so well, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
  7. Breathe. When we get triggered and our body goes into freeze/fight/flight mode, our breathing becomes quick and shallow. Taking a moment for a deep breath tells our body “It’s okay, we’ve got this, no need to panic.” By calming down, we will be much more likely to handle things well, because we’ll be able to think more clearly.

It’s too much to include all of these things in our resolutions for the new year. But they are all interconnected, and improving one tends to help with the others. If we each choose one of these to focus on this year, we can’t help but get along better.