Good Relationships

In this section you will explore:

  1. The importance of good relationships
  2. How to move on from limiting adversity in a bad relationship to building good relations
  3. 3 practices for building good relationships
  4. Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication and natural giving approach.


Good relationships are a key component of psychological well-being. As social animals, relatedness is a fundamental psychological need that has been studied by many psychologists notably Maslow in his hierarchy of needs.

Developing relationship skills is likely to improve your wellbeing. This is not to say developing your skills is going to make everyone you meet easy to get on with. There are some people we just don’t get on with and if we can choose to not be around them then that makes sense. Although, if you really want to challenge your relationship building skills you could try to befriend someone who is challenging for you to be around. That would provide you with a huge opportunity to learn.

But for these practices let’s assume we are talking about people you want to build a good relationship with. Below are 6 steps you can take to improve your relationship with others. You might be surprised to learn that one of the steps is to make sure you have a good relationship with yourself.


Steps to Building Good Relationships


1. Shift Limiting Beliefs about People and Relationships

In earlier sections we explored limiting beliefs that might undermine your ability to make the changes you would like to make. In this section we will look at the beliefs you have about relationships and other people that might get in the way of building better relationships

Born Bad

Some beliefs we have about other people, do not come from our family, friends or the things we have experienced in life, but from the culture we live in. A common belief that originates in several world religions is the idea that humans are born bad. For example, in the Christian tradition the genesis stories describes the first humans as innocent until they eat from the tree of knowledge. From then on all humans were born into original sin, in other words we are born sinners.

Unfortunately, this idea brings with it many consequences that hinder relationships. If we believe people do the wrong thing because it is who they are then the only way to resolve issues is for them to be less themselves. In other words they need to be taught the error of their ways. Often this takes the form of rewards and punishments put in place to ensure “good” behaviour. This type of teaching is familiar to many people, particularly in the West as it is the pre-dominate mode of parenting and teacher-student interaction.

Alternatively, discovering why the error was made, and how you might help that person avoid the error in the future is more likely to build a good relationship and as well as resolve the issue at hand.


attention-hereInvitation to Action

Imagine a world where there are no laws or rules, make a list of the things you would do? Would you describe the things you have listed as “good” or “bad?” What needs would each of the items on your list meet for you?


People can’t be Trusted?

The ability to trust others requires courage and the capacity to be vulnerable. Lack of trust undermines building good relationships so it is helpful to explore any ideas that you have that may reduce your ability to accept others behaviour without judgment and be trusting of others.


attention-hereInvitation to Action

In this weeks journalling time write answers to the following questions:

Do you assume everyone you meet is trustworthy? If not why?

Describe a time when you trusted someone completely. What was the relationship like? Why did you trust them?

Describe a time when you did not trust someone. What made them untrustworthy to you? What could have changed that situation? What would a comfortable balance between trusting others and feeling secure and protected be for you?

It’s not me, it’s Everyone Else

It’s not easy to shift habits of thinking which relate to ourselves but as we have seen in previous activities it is possible with concerted effort and time. However, to build good relationships we need to be able to shift the idea of “inherent badness” when we think about other people as well.

This may seem risky. People may not be born bad but some of them certainly do “bad” things. So how can we shift to a more open minded approach to others that will support building better relationships without opening ourselves up to danger?

Here are some options:

  1. Challenge the idea of “evil” – when we label actions or inaction as “bad or evil” we immediately place the action beyond our control or understanding.
  2. Look for evidence in your own life that supports inherent goodwill in others – the media can create an image of humanity that is almost entirely negative. Counteract this manufactured reality with your own observations. Google “good news” and you will find many resources to help you.
  3. Challenge labelling other mistakes as laziness, stupidity etc – what may seem stupid to us is maybe rational to someone else or could just be a mistake not a reflection of their abilities.


attention-hereInvitation to Action

For the next few weeks notice how often you label other people bad, stupid or lazy.

Then consider what is your evidence for the label? Is there another explanation?



Just as it is with learning a new skill, it is possible to have a fixed mindset about relationships and our ability to maintain good relationships. For example, we may have belief that romantic relationships are predestined i.e. the soul mates idea. In which case, if it doesn’t work out then it was not meant to be. Just as with any skill, adopting a mindset that puts the solution to the problem out of your sphere of control means that you have already decided you cannot improve the relationship or your skills.

If you have a fixed mindset about relationships challenging that belief is a good first step in developing better relationships.

What is your relationship mindset?

Think about the relationships you have had in the past. Note down why the relationship broke down and what you learnt from it.

2. Recovery with Kindness

Speaking Gently to Yourself

If you have limiting beliefs, challenging the idea that you are inherently bad is the first step; but you may well have some habits of thinking and speaking that you need to change as well. When you make a mistake do you ruminate for hours on your faults and failings? Do you often find yourself judging what you do and say negatively?

If you do both of these things, please stop for a moment and note down the ways in which blaming, judging and negative self-talk has helped you. Has it made your life more enjoyable? Has it made your performance better in the short or long run?

Speaking to yourself gently is a great way to connect with yourself and others in a more positive way. It can help you let go of the image of yourself as inherently bad and as deserving of punishment. It can help you develop a practice of choosing actions based on your values and virtues rather than following a set of programmed habits. It will also build a more positive sense of your own identity which in turn will help you develop a more positive appreciation for other people.


attention-hereInvitation to Action

Using your mindfulness practice, spend the next week observing and accepting whatever negative self-talk you experience. Make a note of the patterns you observe. What words do you use to describe yourself? What do you complain about to yourself? Note down what, if any, benefit these thoughts provide for you. How does negative self-talk affect your happiness rating?


In the following week notice negative self-talk and replace it with something more positive. Again make a note of how this impacts your happiness rating.

3. Build Awareness of Your Feelings and Needs

Marshal Rosenberg, an american psychologist, developed a communication process that helps people build better relationships and resolve conflicts more peacefully. His method, Non-violent Communication, has been used all over the world to resolve conflict in schools, prisons, corporations, health care, government and intimate relationships.

One of the fundamentals of his approach is to build an awareness of our own feelings and needs. According to Rosenberg conflict is often rooted in our inability to recognise our own feelings and the needs from which those feelings arise.

Discord arises when, instead of being able to communicate our feelings and needs, we communicate what we believe are strategies for meeting those needs. Unfortunately without a deep awareness of what we need we can choose unsuccessful strategies.

Similarly, when others do not understand our needs they are less able and in some cases less willing to help us.

attention-hereInvitation to Action

Write down needs that arise for you that relate to each of Maslow’s categories of needs, listed below.

Survival – food, water etc

security/protecting – a safe place to live that creates a sense of harmony/peace or calm. This might include: somewhere to live, the means to pay for housing.

Relationship – sense of belonging, a close relationship with another person.

Self-esteem – recognition of skills and abilities, achievement.

Self-actualisation – learning, opportunity to discover ones purpose and pursue it.

Self- transcendence – opportunity to work selflessly in service to all life.


Note down feelings evoked when these needs are not met. For example, sadness, anger, fear, frustration. Lastly, for relationship needs note down what other people can do to help you fulfil those needs? Please make sure you list specific and concrete things other people could do for you.

4. Make it more likely that your needs will be met and natural giving

Marshall Rosenberg’s work is based on these fundamental ideas:

  1. It is human to help each other, in fact we enjoy what he describes as “natural giving.”
  2. Natural giving occurs when we give to others in response to a need in ourselves to express our love and appreciation for them.
  3. Focusing on what the other person has done wrong is unlikely to result in our needs being met.
  4. Giving people specific and concrete feedback, about how what they have done has made life more wonderful for you, is a way to show gratitude without creating influence or coercion to repeat the action.


Below is a video link, which is quite long you might want to watch it in phases. The video is from Marshall Rosenberg. He does a nice job of explaining how clarity in the expression of our needs can support better relationships.

Rosenberg proposes 4 steps to use to support non-violent communication.

Steps to Non-violent Communication

Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent communication 4 step process


Observe – without judgement, remain neutral as you observer what is happening for example the a terrible din being made by workmen which is making it impossible for you to think. Without judgement is a loud persistent noise.

Feelings – notice your feelings take responsibility for them. Be sure to avoid blame as you notice your feelings. Phrases such as “you are ignoring me” are not useful in NVC.

Needs – connect your feelings with a need that is alive in you. For example, I feel fearful because I have a need to

Request – make a request (not a demand). Use phrases like “would you be willing to..” without holding a expectation that the person will fulfil that need. If someone refuses to help thank them for being honest this will reinforce the idea that you were making a request not a demand. – think about how you could fulfil that need another way.

How to use NVC in everyday life

Our friends, family and co-workers do not need to be NVC experts in order for your understanding and practice of NVC to be effective.

Here are a few ways to move towards interactions that are more NVC:

Listen for the Need

If you request help from someone and they say no it is easy to interpret this as rejection but it is more purposeful to see it as their way of expressing a need. Once you can hear “no” as a need then you can ask for clarification of their need.


Ask about feelings and Needs

Often we are not practiced at noticing our feelings by having conversations about feelings we improve our ability to notice our own and other people’s feelings. Once others have expressed their feelings we can then ask them which need that might relate to.


Give people time to vent all their feelings

When people are very upset it may be that they are experiencing many feelings. A great way to reduce conflict in this situation is to give them time to express all of them before you move the discussion to needs.

5. Active Constructive Responding


Shelley Gable, a psychologist at UCLA, discovered how you discuss good events is more predictive of a good relationship then what happens when people fight. Below are 4 approaches to responding to good news. Active and constructive is the approach that is most successful when it comes to building good relationships.


Example scenario is this – your child or best friend tells you they got a B on a maths test.

Active and constructive “That’s really good. You must be pleased that’s a big improvement on your last test. All that effort paid off I am so proud of you I knew you could do it. What kind of questions were on the test.” (nonverbal – maintain eye contact, smiling, tone of voice indicative of positive emotion)
Passive and constructive “That’s good. You deserve a B.” (nonverbal little or no eye contact no signs of positive emotion)
Active and destructive “Only a B with all the work you have put in, you should have done better than that, the other kids said the test was easy.” (Nonverbal: displays of negative emotion.)
Passive and destructive Can you pass me that? (Nonverbal: little or no eye contact leave room.)


Even if we have good relationships we can start to forget that we need to maintain them using active constructive responding can help add awareness to our current relationships that we are possibly taking for granted. This is true of families for sure but also in a work setting we can be so focused on our goals that we let the relationships take care of themselves. Storing up trouble for the future.


6. Mindful Compassionate Listening

Last but not least. If working out the right phrase to use takes too long, deep listening is always a great option. Below are actions you can take to enhance your listening skills.

Techniques for better listening

1 : Active Listening

Here are a few dos and don’t when if comes to active listening which is a fundamental part of mindful compassionate listening:


  1. Open body posture
  2. Eye contact
  3. Non-verbal cues that indicate listening e.g. nodding, smiling
  4. Verbal cues e.g. uh-huh, hmm
  5. Demonstrate understanding e.g. paraphrase/back track over what speaker has said e.g. so.. or seems like …


  1. Don’t plan what you are going to say next.
  2. Don’t move to judgements.
  3. Don’t assume e.g. don’t need to listen already know what they are going to say.

2 : Rapport Building Review

Here are some ways to build rapport with others by mirroring their actions.

Mirroring speakers:

  1. Body posture
  2. Hand gestures
  3. Blink rate
  4. Facial expression
  5. Breathing rate
  6. Voice e.g. volume, tone, rhythm
  7. Phrases and vocabulary.


During the week find someone to practice with take it in turns to talk about something you are really passionate about. Talk for two to three minutes while the listener uses active listening and mirroring. Swap places and repeat.

Review how these techniques worked and how it felt to use them.

Beyond Techniques

The items we have discussed that promote rapport building and active listening have been derived by dissect the actions of successful communicators. When these skills are initially practiced they seem awkward, but over time start to feel more natural. But many people already have these skills. We often learn them as infants. By the time we make it to kindergarten we are masters at reading facial expression, and automatically mirror our friends and family.

For some people becoming an expert listener and communicator is more to do with focus and our starting assumptions. To take your listening and communication skills at work and daily life to the next level you may wish to practice “Compassionate Mindful Listening”

This is not something new, it is how many people communicate with close friends and family. The difference is you can use this approach in your work and daily life to enhance communication, understanding and your relationships.

The elements that characterise compassionate mindful listening are:

  1. Start any conversation by focusing on feelings of compassion and respect for the other person. If you don’t know the person, here are a few facts and figures to bear in mind. Anyone you speak to may be experiencing or be dealing with the aftermath of one or more of these things:

In the UK:

  • 285 people declared insolvency in Q3 2013 (Money Charity)
  • 1 in 4 people experience some kind of mental health issue within any year (Mental Health Foundation)
  • 1 in 9 suffered physical abuse as a child
  • 22,000 children are experiencing neglect (NSPCC)
  • 1.2 million woman and 800,000 men estimated to have suffered some form of domestic abuse 2011/12 (Crime Survey for England and Wales)
  • 3-4 % of men and 1% of woman in the population are estimated to be psychopaths!

Focusing on Strengths

If you do know the person take a few moments, to remind yourself of their strengths and their challenges. If you do not know the person start from the assumption that they are a worthwhile person who may or may not have experienced or may be currently experiencing adversity. Make this a conscious step so that any preconceptions and stereotypes are set to one side before the conversation starts.

  1. Practice mindfulness to stay completely focused on what the other person is saying. A daily mindfulness practice will help build focus which can be used in many situations, including mindful listening. Using mindfulness while listening will help you stay in the moment with the person you are talking to. Being fully present, as you are when you practice mindfulness, will go a long way to building rapport without the need to follow a checklist of practices about mirroring etc. It will also help you avoid moving to judgement and becoming distracted by thoughts of what you are going to say next.

Mindfulness & Listening

Use mindfulness breathing techniques to relax your mind and body continue relaxed breathing as you focus on each word, facial and body movement of the speaker. If other thoughts drift in let them pass quickly across your mind without judgement. All you have to do right now I listen and understand.

  1. Take every opportunity to voice agreement. When your turn comes to speak start by stating points of agreement. If you skip this step and move straight “but then..” the conversation becomes more confrontational. Stating agreement allows you to show respect and appreciation for the other persons contribution. This builds rapport immediately and longer term, the relationship.

Yes and… Looking for common ground

During a discussion about issues or solutions when it is your turn to speak start with phrases like “I agree with what you are saying about …” “I like your suggestion to…” or “that’s a good idea.” only then make alternate suggestions.


Action :

Think of examples when you have used any or all of these responding types.


Linking personal development and Good relationships

Much of our interaction with others revolves around addressing our needs. When we have a need whether it is be supported to do something or spend time with another person, the way we express that need to others is an important part of getting that need met. If we express a need in a way that sounds like a criticism, for example “I need you to stop doing…” then we are less likely to have that need met.


Action :

In your journal note down examples from this week when you have made a request which clearly expressed a need. Also note down when requests of you appear to be criticism.