For most of us, our relationships with family, friends, and colleagues are what life’s really all about. From the day we’re born, life is about our connections to other people: usually our parents, siblings, and other family first. When it’s time to go to school, the first years focus heavily on our relationships with our classmates and teachers. As we grow, the emphasis on academics becomes stronger, but our school friendships continue to be of great importance to us. Later on, as adults, we seek romantic partnerships, mature friendships, and friendly rapport with coworkers. All of these associations are what we call interpersonal relationships. They bring us companionship, joy, and satisfaction—and sometimes they drive us batty. Today, we’ll talk a little more about what interpersonal relationships are, why they’re so important to us, and how you can improve the ones in your own life.
- What Are Interpersonal Relationships?
- Why Are Interpersonal Relationships Important?
- How to Improve Any Interpersonal Relationship
- Final Note
What Are Interpersonal Relationships?
An interpersonal relationship is your connection to any other human being—so, naturally, there are multiple kinds of interpersonal relationships. You wouldn’t describe your relationship with your mom or dad, for example, as identical to the one you have with your brother or sister. And I’d bet that the dynamic between you and your best friend from college isn’t the one you share with your supervisor at work. (If I’m wrong, consider yourself very lucky!) Interpersonal relationships can be split into four major categories:
- Romantic partners
In some cases, one relationship may fit easily into more than one category, like if you consider a sibling, cousin, or spouse to be a close friend. The characteristics of a single interpersonal relationship can change over time, like when you and an acquaintance develop a friendship.
Some sources add a fifth kind of relationship: professional or working. Again, there’s ample room for crossover, as you might meet one of your best friends while on the job. When you’re spending as much time together as full-time employees do, there’s a high level of interpersonal communication. It’s no surprise that coworkers often become friends—or that many people meet their spouses in the workplace.
Why Are Interpersonal Relationships Important?
The depth of our connections with other people varies greatly. You might enjoy your banter with the person who makes your morning coffee each day, but they probably don’t occupy a great deal of your time and energy. Contrast that with your partner or spouse, one of your parents, or one of your children. You’re probably thinking about that person all the time, even when you’re not together. Maybe you’re hoping your loved one is having a good day or worrying about something difficult they’re facing. Chances are good that they’re thinking about you too.
Our interpersonal relationships are an incredibly important part of our lives. They give us a strong sense of purpose and help us to feel less lonely. They provide us with social support and a valuable outlet for blowing off steam (like when you meet friends for happy hour on Friday evening). And, in the case of our closest relationships, they bring us love, happiness, and emotional security. The world isn’t always the easiest place to navigate, and our relationships with others can give us the bravery and resilience we need to meet our biggest challenges head-on.
How to Improve Any Interpersonal Relationship
When you pause and take stock of your own interpersonal relationships, I’ll bet you can think of some that leave room for improvement. You might love your mom, for example, while also wishing she’d take your opinions more seriously—after all, you’re an adult now too. Or you might enjoy your job more if your office teammate would stop expecting to do your share of the work and theirs too. Since no human being is perfect, none of our relationships will be perfect—but we can always strive for better! Let’s check out some simple tips for how to improve your interpersonal skills. When you set a good example, the other person in your relationship may be inspired to follow suit.
Be an Active Listener
Many of us like to think of ourselves as good listeners—but are we listening actively? Are we focused on what the speaker is saying and why, or are we thinking ahead and preparing a reply? Being an active listener requires a degree of patience and mindfulness we may not be accustomed to in everyday conversation. The next time you’re having an important discussion with someone, be sure you’re not distracted by your phone or smartwatch and that you’re not interrupting them. Try to stay focused on what they’re telling you, and try to discern their motivation for saying it. You’ll have a much clearer idea of what that person wants to communicate, which means you’ll have a more thoughtful and informed answer when it’s your turn to speak.
Learn to Define (and Stick to) Your Boundaries
Having a positive interpersonal relationship with someone doesn’t mean putting your needs aside all the time. While many close connections, like romantic partnerships or parent-child relationships, do require compromises and sacrifices, you are allowed to maintain healthy boundaries for your own sense of well-being. You might absolutely adore your older brother but not his habit of doling out unsolicited advice. In a situation like that, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, thank you, but I’ve got this.” In fact, your honesty may help improve your conversations, as you won’t be silently irritated by his well-meaning suggestions. In the same vein, try to be open to other people setting their own boundaries with you.
Approach Your Relationships with Intentionality
When it comes to dealing with other people, many of us are on autopilot for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fast pace of life. You kiss your spouse and kids on the way out the door in the morning, and you say a quick “hi” to coworkers when you walk into the office. You probably don’t actively think about these behaviors most of the time because they’ve become so routine.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Think before you speak,” and that’s where intentionality comes in. That’s when you use those awesome active listening skills you’ve practiced to be more mindful of your relationships. When you’re being intentional, you choose your words and actions carefully based on the unique dynamic you have with the other person in that moment. It’s like having a custom conversation rather than a one-size-fits-all chat, and it can help bring you closer together.
Our relationships with others are a key aspect of who we are. Take a little time to practice your interpersonal communication skills, and you’ll see an improvement in your connections to loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Happy talking—and listening!