Are you aware of the great need that every person secretly harbors within? It is often denied because we are taught to be self-reliant and rugged individualists. The need: someone to trust, a best friend to turn to at any time, and feel confident in his/her presence. Why? Because often we have to express what we are feeling. We always need good listeners.
Psychologists and therapists of every stripe tell us of the supreme importance of having friends, a social circle to rely on and relate to. In fact, many will say good friends are more important than any vitamin you can take.
How can we consciously build a strong network of friends? Over the years, I have found four key concepts that anyone can develop and work on that result in filling this vital human need for interaction. I call them the four A’s. Master them and you will grow in wisdom, friendships, and happiness.
1. Attention. We are led to believe that only children constantly seek attention and we hear people say that frequently. The truth is we all want attention–by the right persons, at the right times, and in the right places. How we give attention, with respect, warmth, and sincerity is at the heart of building relationships. Using a person’s first name, nickname, or title may be appropriate as a starter (greeting someone with just a Hi is not the same as Hi Barb).
However, think of all the other ways you can give attention: a telephone call, a greeting card, a gift, flowers, a visit, a smile, a ride, a letter, a compliment, even a loaf of bread. There are endless ways to give attention to others. Being alert as to how and when is a key in building relationships.
2. Acceptance. Accepting others as they are, not as we want them to be, is an inner decision that shows clearly in our outward demeanor. Because you may not like long hair, body piercing, baggy pants, or wrinkled clothing or someone’s looks, is no reason to dismiss them as not up to your standards. Treating someone as a second class citizen, sometimes even unknowingly, is often displayed and picked up intuitively by others in nonverbal behavior.
We all want to be accepted for who we are at this time in life. How do we show acceptance of others? With a genuine welcome–a hug, smiling eyes, a warm handshake (with the nondominant hand on the top of the recipients’), and/or the hello with name. Acceptance is also shown by inviting a person to join a conversation, a group, or an organization. The key is finding ways to express “we are equals.” Sometimes, just your presence alone, without a word spoken, sends the message.
3. Affection. How we show concern, caring, compassion, and love is perhaps the most critical factor influencing how we feel about others. It is at the core of establishing meaningful relationships, and equally important, reflects how we feel about ourselves. The need to feel loved is present at every stage of development and beyond. The elderly, often isolated and marginalized in society, have a special need for affection and to be touched.
Affection can be shown in numerous ways from saying “I love you” to giving a helping hand in the worst of times. A thousand acts of kindness can send a thousand messages of affection and then some. Remembering the great impact that kindness has on feeling that someone cares and “I am important” is of paramount importance in bonding and relating.
4. Appreciation. The American philosopher William James, the most influential thinker of his time, said “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to feel appreciated.” In part, this brings us back to the role of attention since showing appreciation for and what others do is to give recognition for what has been accomplished. We all have loads of people we need to thank and show appreciation to for all they have done. Developing awareness of what others accomplish and sincerely showing appreciation will cement any relationship.
Think about writing appreciation notes or letters or if possible to deliver face to face your appreciation for something a friend does. You can appreciate the work, time, talent, treasure, kindness, and goods that others give in the service of others.
In summary, the bottom line is this: there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of specific behaviors that can be fashioned to meet the conditions of the four A’s. Next to understanding these four factors that guarantee the development of strong interpersonal relationships, you need to create the specific actions that will fulfill each of the needs.
Let your creativity be your guide. Building friendships and maintaining them takes commitment. Think long and hard about the many ways you can deliver the four A’s. Make it one of your goals to become an expert at it, and you will benefit more than you can imagine in meeting your own secret need for social relationship.