Whether it’s a neighbor, a new PTA member, or a coworker, sometimes we just don’t know how to get beyond awkward interactions with certain individuals. It’s not so much that there’s a full-blown conflict at play; rather it’s more of a hinky feeling that things just aren’t right. I’ve certainly had my share of lop-sided connections and uncomfortable exchanges, that’s for sure. The one thing I’ve learned along the way, though, is that if anything is going to change between the two of us, it has to start with me. If you’re ready to get passed the awkward stage with someone, here are a few tips you may want to try.
The most obvious place to start is simply with your general demeanor. Remembering common courtesies like saying good morning and acknowledging everyone you see at the community mailbox can go a long way in how others view you; and whether they’re interested in knowing more about you. Letting others know that you’re open to more than a friendly wave or head nod opens the door for more.
Practice extending common courtesies into open-ended conversation starters. For instance, rather than just saying, “Good morning” or “How was your weekend”, try to elicit a response that goes beyond one or two words. Ask what the highlight of their weekend was and then ask a few questions related to the reply. If time allows, share a brief story of your highlight. It may feel strange at first, but keep in mind that relationships are built on the mundane.
If you find that you have a particularly strained relationship or you got off on the wrong foot with someone, be careful not to talk too much about it with others. Asking another person to take your side or participating in any form of gossip rarely ends well and can create some pretty solid boundary lines that are hard to erase. It will be difficult for you to build a closer relationship with a PTA committee member if he knows you’ve spoken poorly of him to other parents.
If you’re trying to build better relationships on the job (paid or volunteer) look for ways to create cross-departmental work groups. Even if there are no work projects to focus on, there are always opportunities to create task forces on building safety, employee morale, or even the holiday committee. Offer up help without looking too eager wherever and whenever you can.
Last but not least, offer unsolicited, but sincere, bits of praise to others. If you can make people feel good about how you view them, they’re more apt to feel good about you and reciprocate the goodwill.