Got Your Relationship Plan for 2018? 4 Key Strategies

12/14/2017 10:21 am ET

There was no need to ask grandpa how to clean the fish, I just googled it. Teen explaining how he learned to clean his first catch.

We’ve achieved the goal of fewer divorces by having many fewer marriages. We’ve reduced promiscuity by substituting smartphones and pornography. We’ve leveled off out-of-wedlock births by entering into a major baby bust. Ross Douthat NYT

As a society we have mostly responded to our relationship challenges by disengaging from certain individuals and groups. Whether we’ve done so intentionally or not, the result is fewer go-to relationships, less relational diversity, more separation and greater isolation. Our abandoned relationships are often both cause and effect of our growing technology dependence.

Just as eliminating physical work does not eliminate the need for physical exercise, we are now learning that ready-access to information via smart phones and google does not eliminate the need for human contact and relationships. The incredible gains and future promise of technology come with unintended consequences to our relationships. There is a relational cost for a boy choosing google over learning from grandpa.

Most of us will enter 2018 facing relationship challenges: a frustrating spouse, a failing employee, a bullying boss, an at-risk child, a wilting romance, a dysfunctional team. We can also point to relational hope and optimism: a budding romance, a baby, an exciting new employee, a renewed son or daughter connection, or a team that is beginning to jell.

What are your relationship intentions for 2018 – and beyond for addressing these challenges and opportunities? For most, our relationships are the source of our greatest joy and productivity, and our most vivid pain and challenging obstacle to getting certain things done. Whether you are a CEO of a large enterprise, a single-parent, or living alone, – chances are your relationships will be defining this next year.

The mission-critical importance of relationships is not just a fuzzy feel-good opinion but a stern reality backed by extensive research documented regularly in this space. The net is:

Engaged, productive relationships are tied to happiness, health, and wealth while broken and estranged relationships are directly tied to higher poverty, depression, dysfunctional organizations and poorer physical and emotional health. Suicide, divorce, addiction, impoverished children, government gridlock, churches splitting, distrust, disengaged employees, defecting customers and even war – often proceed from relational demise. The glue for effective leadership is productive relationships. It is not hyperbole to say: Our relationships are our single most valuable and value-creating resource.

Relationship Plan: Turning Tourists into Engaged Citizens

Too many of us have become Relationship Tourists just passing through this relational land on vacation. We connect with more people via social media, but then we let it distract us from face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact with some of our most meaningful relationships, and we end up separated from them.

What if in 2018 we committed to be more engaged citizens of our relational world, as intentional about our relationships as we are about money or exercise? Most of us have household and organization goals reflected in some form of financial plan/budget. Many of us are targeting exercise and weight goals for 2018 – workout 30 minutes a day, lose 10 pounds. What if we were that intentional about developing our Relationship Workout Plan for building and sustaining our key connections?

Let me suggest four key Relationship Strategies for your Relationship Plan across family, friends, community and work:

Retention: What key relationships are you at risk of losing? We all have at-risk relationships. Not all relationships can be salvaged. However, we can prioritize two or three where additional effort can potentially salvage them. In the movie Wonder a disfigured young boy faces the challenge of moving from being home-schooled to attending a regular school. His older sister Via feels neglected and becomes estranged as the family is consumed by his very real challenges. Who is your Via?

Growth: What key existing relationships provide the greatest potential for added value? What incremental relational investments might unlock this potential? In business it typically takes less effort to get additional sales from existing customers than creating new ones – shop in your own closet. One suggestion is to change the relational setting where you interact. I once had a co-worker who came across as cold and aloof until I had dinner at his home and saw a much warmer, more expressive person when surrounded by his wife and children. Who are your high-potential relationships to grow this next year by investing more time, changing the setting or adding a routine – like a monthly lunch?

Attraction: What new relationships would add value to your life? Many of us, especially as we age, get very comfortable with our current network of relationships – friends, family, customers/donors, or colleagues at work. Yet adding and diversifying relationships can be a great source of new blood that brings energy, innovation and freshness. This last year, a group of us volunteered to weekly mentor a formerly homeless, single, working-mom I’ll call Amanda and her four kids – two of whom have special needs. She is unlike anyone in my network and what she overcomes daily is absolutely inspiring. If I ran Time Magazine, she would be my Person of the Year. Who will you target to be your Amanda of 2018?

Cost Management: What relationships or activities are stealing time from your relationship retention, growth and attraction intentions? This strategy is called cost management because we must manage our relationships with a finite budget of time. Most of us can quickly identify a relationship that takes an inordinate amount of time or energy or brings us no good. Sometimes there is no alternative and we simply have to hang in, but know when it’s time to release a relationship or your expectations of it and put your time and energy to better use. Where are over-invested relationships or expectations stealing from your relationship priorities?

If messy, painful relationships are our most valuable resource (and they are), if the forces of society are accelerating their decline (and they are), then we must be intentional about managing our most valuable resource – our relationships. This intention starts with our 2018 Relationship Plan.

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