5 Ways to Build Better Relationships
Step 2—Looking at Motivation
Examine your motivations in this relationship. If they are merely selfish, chances are you are missing out, both in the short and long term. The best relationships are where we honor and recognize others for who they are and what they bring—even if just to the moment of interaction.
The second step focuses on becoming aware of your motivation for wanting to improve the relationship. Often when we label a relationship “difficult,” it’s because we’re not getting what we want from the other person. In my book In the Lotus of the Heart I discuss what I call “the investment-strategy” approach to relationships. We often connect with others motivated by a desire to get something from them, treating them as investments and expecting a return on our time and energy. “Things are fine,” I write, “as long as there is a return on our investment of generosity and care. But when the investment isn’t paying off and people aren’t acting the way we want, we moan about the ingratitude of our stocks.”
The underlying assumption of this perspective is that other people exist to fulfill our desires. So we complain when our boss doesn’t give us what we think we deserve; we’re hurt when our children don’t appreciate us and outraged when our friends don’t act the way we think they should. It’s natural to want other people to meet our needs. But the problem comes when we stop there. Even though it might be nice if others did what I wanted them to, people aren’t put on this earth to fulfill my personal desires. Relationships are more than a system of trade and barter, and if we only see people in terms of their use to us, we miss a lot.
A couple of weeks ago I was eating dinner in a restaurant when a mother carrying a baby walked by my table. The baby’s eyes met mine and his face broke out in a huge, joyous smile. I smiled back, feeling a sense of happiness surge through my body. I couldn’t stop smiling. A little while later, while the mother was eating, the baby started to fuss. So to calm the baby, the mother got and carried her child in a circle, passing by each table in the restaurant. And as soon as the baby caught sight of a human face, he bestowed on the person that same delighted, bewitching smile. Soon everyone in the restaurant was smiling and an almost palpable sense of joy spread throughout the room.
As I watched the scene, it struck me how close to the surface lies our sense of joy in human connection. The baby’s smile was a totally genuine expression of her happiness at seeing other people. She wasn’t motivated by a desire to make a good first impression, so she could make a sale or find new business contacts. She wasn’t trying to “work” the room. She wasn’t looking for a date or trying to convince people to vote for her. Without the limitations of a self-promoting agenda, our fundamental humanity shines through.
I’m not saying we should give up our desires and walk around smiling and cooing like a baby. But we might find more joy in our lives and develop deeper relationships, if we remember that people are more that objects to be used in the service of our wants and needs. I’ll say a little more about this in my next blog, but in the meantime try noticing those times during the day when you feel joy during an interaction with another person. What is going on in those moments? Take a second or two just to enjoy that feeling.
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