“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women, merely players” begins Shakespeare’s famous quote that ends with “one man in his time plays many parts.” It refers to man’s seven chronological ages. What’s more challenging, though, is simultaneously playing many roles in life: parent, spouse, offspring, sibling, working professional, volunteer, mentor, drinking buddy, cheering squad, and fall guy. Wearing different hats adds spice to life. But being in various relationship scenarios can be disorienting, like playing Macbeth but speaking in Klingon.
What if we work at mastering one role–being a friend– and apply it across our relationships? Here’s ways of bringing affection and fun into our closest connections.
Get to know your children sans judgment.
Forget for a while about your children being a reflection of you and how you brought them up. Try taking the ‘parent’ out of the equation when you relate to them. What interests them? Hold conversations about a trending bit of news or watch movies together, and then compare your takeaways. Listen and learn about their world view, fears, hopes, and trigger points. Learning leads to more conversations and shared activities. You’ll appreciate how amazing your children are and will be ready to support them through rough patches, like a good friend.
Discover who they were before they became your parents.
We meet our parents only after we’re born. Our perception of them begins with love, awe, fear; and moves through disappointment, annoyance, resentment; and finally, acceptance. We often learn to fully appreciate them only when we become parents ourselves. Start now to re-discover your parents with this opening. “When you were my age, did you also _______?” Most parents will warm up to that question and conversation will flow. Listen to who they were and who they are as individuals. You’ll realize how much you have in common, will appreciate their friendly advice, and confidently share yours.
Pepper your marriage with humor.
Bills are piling, the plumbing’s not working and, your child is failing at school. Where’s the humor in that? Well, look for it! Being able to laugh in dire situations instantly lightens it and brings a shift in perspective–from “poor us” to “silly us,” from helpless to funny– attached to the operative word, “us.” That’s two hearts, two minds finding solutions together. Plan fun activities where talk of finances or the household is banned: a concert, a mountain trek, a game of table tennis, or watching a good sitcom. It’s no accident that friendly banter spontaneously flows from strongly bonded couples.
Take your team to lunch.
Whether you’re leading your sales team or a volunteer group, collaborating on a project is demanding. Pressure is building, everyone’s on edge, creativity has run dry, and motivation is low. It’s time to take your team to (a non-working) lunch. Pick a laid-back place, get out of work mode, and just chill. Your gesture will communicate that you notice and appreciate everyone’s efforts. They’ll relax and get to know peers in a casual setting. When all team members– including the boss- are on friendly terms, results come easily.
Being a good friend may not necessarily make all relationships a walk in the park. But maybe they’ll become less of an obstacle course.