By Alison Bell
We all want to connect with the people in our lives — our co-workers, family, friends, and even strangers we interact with. One secret to better relationships lies in a program called *Risking Connection®, which teaches a mindset and skills for working with survivors of traumatic experiences. Risking Connection® helps people recover from trauma through RICH@ relationships, those that are characterized by Respect, Information Sharing, Connection, and Hope.
Hillsides is currently leading its employees through Risking Connection® training, with an emphasis on RICH®. While the training is directed at helping our clients recover from trauma, the principles of RICH® can be applied to our everyday life for fuller, happier relationships.
Here, Hillsides director of training, Samira Vishria, offers five tips to make all of our relationships RICHer:
RICH Tip # 1: Slow down. Time has become a precious resource for most of us. In our rush to get everything done, we may make snap judgments or not give others our complete attention. For example, you may get annoyed when a co-worker asks you to do something in a demanding or agitated tone. However, instead of writing off the encounter as an irritant, Vishria suggests responding with, “I am happy to help, but first I have to ask, is everything okay?”
This does two things. First, it lets the other person know you care enough to ask about their well-being. Second, it helps you let go of any assumptions fueling your exasperation. You may discover, for example, that your co-worker got some bad news that morning, which is influencing how they are treating you. With this simple question, you gain sympathy for them, and they gain a listening ear. What could have been a dark moment in both of your day can turn into a bright spot of connection.
RICH Tip # 2: Replace “need” with “can.” When making a request of someone, we often use the word “need.” For example, you may say to your partner, “We need to get going.” “Need,” however, conveys a sense of urgency and position of power that can come off as harsh. As an alternative, Vishria suggests using “can,” as in, “Can we get going so we’re not late for the dinner?” The change is subtle, but softens your request in a way that doesn’t make the other person feel defensive or under the gun. The result: better overall communication, and as a bonus, a greater chance you will get the desired results.
RICH Tip # 3: Exchange more information. Throughout life, we are often told “no.” “No, you can’t park here.” “No, you can’t enroll your child in this program.” “No, your insurance doesn’t cover that procedure.” It’s easy to get frustrated and to blame the bearer of bad news. The result? Total communication shut down. What can help is staying calm and probing deeper into the reasoning behind the decision. (The trick is you have to really listen, not just ask why to blow off steam.) Not only does this make the interaction more bearable, often in hearing the rationale for the rule, you will find some pieces of information that are helpful to you.
Conversely, when you’re having a tough talk with someone, in your desire to get the information out quickly, you may not be as thorough as you could be. Yet, everyone likes to know as much as possible so they can make an informed decision. “Exchanging more information helps both parties see the other side and shows a mutual respect,” says Vishria.
Rich Tip 4: Create small bridges of connection
It’s easy to feel like others aren’t making an effort toward us, but it can be beneficial to ask yourself, What effort am I making? “Small gestures, such as making eye contact and saying hello to people you see every day makes a big difference in feeling connected,” says Vishria. Often, too, we pick up on the cues around us. Maybe your office environment isn’t that friendly, or no one says hi to the clerk at your local market. “However, you can be the one to change the culture,” says Vishria. “Don’t wait for someone else to do it – you do it first!”
Rich Tip 5: Put the “h” word into more conversations
“Hope” is a powerful word to drop into conversations. For example, if you are having a disagreement with someone, try to end the conversation with, “I hope we can discuss this later and find some common ground.” Checking in with the person after an unpleasant talk is also a way of staying hopeful even if you don’t use the actual word. “It might be as simple as saying, “I felt really bad after the conversation. Are we okay?” That opens up the chance for more conversation and an opportunity to see more eye to eye.
Life is complicated and filled with the potential for both meaningful and dissatisfying encounters with those around us. By following the RICH® model, we can all make our lives – and everyone else’s –a little better.
*Risking Connection is a registered trademark of the Sidran Foundation, a nonprofit that helps people understand, recover from and treat traumatic stress, dissociative disorders, and co-occurring issues, such as additions, self-injury, and suicidality.