Relationship Skills

Developing relationship skills is the key to successful interaction with others. Whether it is a brief encounter or a long-term relationship, focusing on certain skills can make any interaction more productive. Therefore, relationship skills are an important part of developing or teaching life skills. Relationships skills, in general, are built on solid personal strengths, especially good character, which includes honesty, trustworthiness, self-discipline and self-control (A-R-E-A of Control). Kindness and patience also go a long way in building strong relationships.

Without a doubt, mutual trust and respect is the cornerstone of any successful interaction. This is true during limited encounters (sales clerks, contractors, doctors), but especially true in longer-term relationships (friends, family, co-workers, partners, spouses) that involve continual interaction. Interaction implies action on both sides. Therefore, every interaction should be a two-way street; a give-and-take that involves both participants. (Again, this is particularly true in relationships.) To restate an often overlooked success secret, no one can sustain a positive relationship alone - even if he or she has exceptional relationship skills.

Relationship Rights and Responsibilities

In every interaction or relationship, each person has a number of rights and responsibilities. And the success of every one of these interactions and relationships is totally dependent on how well each person recognizes and implements their rights and responsibilities.


• To expect an appropriate level of trust (honesty / dependability) and respect for personal values, opinions, choices.

• To maintain individuality within the interaction or relationship.

• To set personal boundaries in areas such as physical contact, respect, honesty.

• To expect a level of commitment from the other person that furthers the goals of that particular interaction or relationship.


• To control personal actions, reactions, emotions and attitude.

• To respect the other person’s rights, as outlined above.

As stated, both commitment and individuality are important parts of every relationship. As individuals, we should never give up our personal dreams and goals to become part of a relationship. We must be willing, however, to balance our needs and goals with the needs and goals of the relationship. Even in relationships that demand a great deal of commitment - spouses, partners, parents and children - each individual needs down-time, to enjoy interests and activities that are particularly nurturing to him or her. To be strong for someone else, we must be strong ourselves. Therefore, boundaries are an important part of a healthy relationship.

Some degree of self-reliance is also a good idea, because change is a part of life. Any relationship can change or end, for one reason or another. Children grow up and become involved in other relationships. Close friends may move out-of-state. And sad as it may be, one member of the relationship may die. If we do not have some degree of self-reliance, it may be impossible to envision a worthwhile and productive future.

Relationship Facts

Exploring the following statements, which are very important in basic communication skills, may also be helpful in developing strong relationship skills:

• Image and Perception are not always as they appear.

As an individual we want to project a certain image. For example we may want to be seen as intelligent, confident, kind, caring, energetic, wealthy, tough, athletic, strong and/or competent. Other people have that same desire.

Unfortunately, image (what is projected) does not always match perception (how the image is interpreted). Sometimes we project an image that is misinterpreted and sometimes we misinterpret the image someone else is projecting. In either case, there is a breakdown in communication and the interaction or relationship can suffer.

The best way to avoid these misinterpretations is to stop assuming and ask questions. We can’t always assume what we say is what is heard. Neither can we assume our first impressions of someone are correct. They very well might be, but then again they may not be correct. Asking questions to confirm our thoughts is usually a good idea. (Of course this is not true in extreme circumstances. If someone pulls a knife, it is safe to assume he or she is dangerous.)

Spending time building a strong image and allowing for variations in perception is an important part of building relationship skills.

• We all have different perspectives.

Differences such as gender, age, race, culture, religion, background, experience and personality type gives each of us a truly unique perspective with regard to other people and the world. So it is easy to understand that no two people are going to see everything the same way all of the time.

Good relationship skills allow for differences in perspective and opinion. Although we may be able to influence or persuade, we cannot make someone think what we want them to think. They have to make their own decisions, just as we do. Therefore, having said all we want to say, sometimes it may be best to simply agree to disagree and move on. (Even if the other person does not agree with us, they may still value our opinion.)

Cooperation with others, especially in the workplace is difficult if different perspectives are ignored. If a variety of perspectives are encouraged and considered, however, outcomes that result from these interactions are generally more positive.

Strong relationship skills allow for flexibility when working with different perspectives.

• Assertiveness prevents others from making decisions for us.

One definition for assertiveness would be “standing up for yourself and the things that are important to you, while respecting the position and opinions of others.” In other words, an assertive people respect themselves enough to speak out, but also respect the right of others to be heard. In contrast, passive people may not show respect for themselves, when they believe their opinions don’t matter and allow others to make decisions for them. Aggressive people, on the other hand, believe their opinions are the only ones that matter and therefore have no respect for the position or opinions of others.

Good relationships and productive interactions should include two generally assertive people. Specific situations, however, may require more of a passive or aggressive approach. (If we have no real stake in the outcome, it’s OK to stay quiet; and sometimes the actions of others may cause us to lose some respect for them.)

Problems can occur when people use one of these responses all the time:

- Never expressing an opinion may result in not having needs met and increase the chances of being manipulated by others.

- Always expressing an opinion can be tiring and annoying to other people.

- Always dictating the outcome can result in being isolated by others.

• Conflict is inevitable, but can be beneficial.

Whenever two people are together for a period of time, conflicts will occur. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. If handled correctly and in a timely manner, conflicts can actually strengthen an interaction or relationship. This is true because calmly discussing a problem can deepen one person’s understanding of the other’s position and the changes made as a result of that discussion can benefit both participants.

Good relationship skills enable us to better identify potential areas of conflict and address these areas as soon as possible.

Successful conflict resolution involves the following steps:

1. Stay calm and focus on the current problem.

2. State personal position and opinions clearly and concisely.

3. Listen to the other person’s position and opinions.

4. Find common ground.

5. Compromise, if necessary.

6. Restate final solution to avoid misunderstandings.