Even though we may not be consciously aware of it, each time we encounter another person, in the first second of the encounter, we perform a quick evaluation of their mood, their expressions, their body language, and their response to us. The closer the relationship, the more we are affected by the way we perceive the other person’s mood.
When we see that the other person is welcoming and inviting towards us, we tend to relax and soften our approach in response. When we sense tension or withdrawal, our response is more guarded. Due to distraction, exhaustion, or discomfort, we can sometimes come across to others as irritable or angry, even when we think we are being pleasant.
If we think we are being inviting, but the other person senses agitation, their guarded response leads to us becoming more guarded in return. This cycle often escalates into tension and defensiveness, especially when the relationship is close, and these encounters occur on a regular basis. Just think about how many arguments have begun with the words, “What’s wrong?”
The way to overcome this and build positive relationships is to make a point of affirming the value of those around you on a consistent basis. Daily encouraging comments, smiles, welcoming expressions, and touches (when appropriate) are times to check-in with the other person to say, “We’re still good.” It removes doubt about where you stand with each other and, often non-verbally, releases tension and sets the tone for how you relate to one another.
With family members, when you first see each other in the morning, or when you come home from work, there’s that little question hanging in the air: “What kind of mood is he in?” “Is she mad at me about anything?” The seemingly insignificant affirmations of physical touch, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. measure and confirm to one another that all is good, or it is not. When we fail to convey that all is good, that uncertainty generates tension that creates an environment where other misunderstandings and disagreements can fester.
Each time we interact with another person, we are affirming the value we place on them. This is true whether it is a family member, a co-worker, a client, or a friend. If you routinely encounter people who seem tense, angry and negative, you might look to see if they are actually responding to something that you, yourself, are conveying unintentionally.
You will be amazed at how all your relationships will improve as you begin to recognize and take advantage of all the ways you can positively affirm those around you. It may be difficult to overcome how you have been perceived by others in the past, but over time, you will notice a positive change in your relationships through daily positive affirmations.
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.