I’ve always wanted to plant a garden, so several years ago I did. Since I wanted it to be successful, I really gave my garden a lot of attention. I watered every day, fertilized, fussed, and worried over it.
A whole lot of nothing. I harvested one zucchini from my zucchini plant before worms demolished it. My cucumber plants turned gray and withered, and a mouse (and my dog) ate all my tomatoes. It was very frustrating having put so much time and effort into something to just have it fail.
When I started doing some research on what went wrong, I quickly realized my error– I’d over-watered and over-tended my garden to death.
To avoid this problem, and the associated frustration of failure, the next year my gardening motto was “neglect.” I decided that I was just going to throw some plants in the ground and leave them to grow or die on their own. However, I quickly realized this wasn’t the solution either.
I’ve come to the conclusion that a garden shouldn’t be over-tended, nor should it be neglected. A garden’s success is about finding the right balance of attention and input in order to reap the harvest.
Relationships, both work and personal, are a lot like a garden. You have to find the right balance of attention and input to help them grow and thrive. Over-tend them, and you’ll drive the other person away, under-tend them, and your relationship will wither and die.
Here are five tips for effectively cultivating your relationships to ensure they thrive:
1. Provide feedback, but don’t nitpick.
People need to know where they stand in a relationship. Employees need to know when their performance needs to improve. However, there’s only so much feedback a person can take before they shut down and give up. So, choose your battles and provide feedback on what’s truly important.
2. Listen more and speak less.
In all their relationships, people feel most satisfied and connected when they feel they’ve been heard and understood. Don’t be a stage hog. Really listen to others and focus on understanding what they’re trying to share with you.
3. Spend time with others, but don’t smother or micromanage them.
In any relationship, there’s a dialectic tension of autonomy and connection. Autonomy meaning, “I need my space to do my own thing,” and connection being the need to feel part of a team, partnership, or family. Employers should carve out regular time to meet with employees to “check in.” Family members should also periodically check in with each other, either through family meetings, one-on-one time, or couple’s time.
At the same time, no one wants a boss or spouse who hovers around asking “Whatcha doing?” all day long. The same goes for “helicopter parenting.” Children need to learn to make good decisions and take responsibility for their actions (and inactions) without mom or dad stepping in to control every situation. Better for a child to learn the consequences in elementary school of not doing their homework or not getting up in time to get on the bus, than to learn that lesson in college.
4. Encourage individuals to develop their own identity and interests beyond their role in the relationship or group.
People who feel individually fulfilled and who have developed autonomy will be happier and more productive members of all their relationships. Many stay-at-home parents are a great example of NOT doing this. Their entire life and identity revolves around the children and can be summed up in one word, “mom” or “dad.” Although they’ll always have those roles, what will their identity become when they become empty-nesters? You can be a mom or dad and still be an individual with your own job, activities, friends, and interests. The same goes for employees in the workplace. They should be encouraged to develop talents outside their immediate job responsibilities. Doing so will make them more valuable to the organization and more able to fill in when needed in other areas.
5. Learn to handle conflict effectively.
Sarcasm, name calling, yelling, and other passive aggressive and aggressive techniques are like over-watering a garden- they smother relationships and slowly kill them. Learn to handle conflict assertively, by finding the balance of expressing yourself and standing up for your own needs, while being respectful and open to the needs of others, and you’ll have found the balance needed to ensure your relationships thrive.
For more information on how to accomplish the tips above, check out past posts in the Performance Communication Blog. There are many blog posts on feedback, conflict, and more skills that will help you grow strong and healthy relationships.