Have you mastered the art of building strong relationships?  I think I can safely say that most of us can use some help in this area. Why? Because good relationships take both skill and hard work.

In this post, I’ll be offering advice on the skill part. The hard work part will then be up to you.

I’ve gathered up seven practical strategies for improving your relationships at work and at home. See how many of these strategies you are currently using and which ones you may need to start applying now.

1. Create a Safe Environment

Create a safe environment where you can both trust and share openly. Make sure you are easy to approach, trust, and connect with. How do you do this? Two words: Be respectful! That means that you must listen actively and not interrupt.  In other words, listen first — I mean, really listen as if what you are hearing could change your life —  and talk second.  

2. Separate Facts from Feelings

As you communicate, be sure you are expressing the facts of a situation. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the feelings. Be tough on issues that need to be addressed, but tender on the person. In short, don’t make it personal! Be fair and work toward being calm and unemotional when you are working on an issue in a relationship.

3. Don’t Assume

This one is very important: don’t make assumptions about things that are left unsaid. We usually make up our own stories or interpretations about what someone’s behavior means instead of asking for clarification. For example, if someone comes in and throws down their bag, don’t assume they are mad or disappointed in you — ask them! Also, don’t assume anyone knows your undisclosed desires! For example, if you expect a special dinner on your birthday, tell someone! If you want to go out for Mexican, don’t say you don’t care where you go.   

4. Ask Questions

To make sure you understand what exactly is being said, ask questions. We can never err on the side of asking too many questions. Be sure you don’t interrupt to ask. Wait for a break in the conversation and then listen to the answers!

5. Shovel Your Piles While They are Small

Be aware of the things you’re not talking about but should be. Don’t let issues pile up until they are a big stinky mess that you now have to address. If you need to have a hard conversation, then have the courage to do that!  When something happens that doesn’t seem right in your relationship, then talk about that as soon as it happens – not days, weeks, or even years later.

6. Make Time

One of the best ways to strengthen a relationship is to nurture it. Schedule time together and avoid interruptions. Get away from the stress of work or home or kids and invest some real quality time in the relationship.

7. Celebrate What’s Right With Your Relationship

Don’t spend as much energy on what you don’t like about your relationship as you do to celebrate what’s right with it!  Think of what you appreciate about the person and your relationship and tell them – often!

Now, I challenge you to pick one of these seven tips and take one step this week towards getting better at it!

Do you find yourself wishing you could be a better communicator both at home and at work? Learn these skills and develop the self-confidence you need with my online course, Communication Skills for Success. For any questions or to learn more, you can also contact me for a free 30-minute consultation.

Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude. She is also the host of the Fall Women’s Summit.