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The importance of being aware of how you make others feel

The goal is to make others feel supported, whether they are family, friends or employees

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Everyone sends out unspoken messages. As an individual, your tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions speak volumes. Although our goal should be to make other people feel supported, we too often make them feel judged and inferior.

“I’ve learned in the business world that employees perform according to what I convey to them,” said an executive we’ll call Brad. “When I underscore their competencies, they try much harder.”

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Brad said he used to meet with employees to ask, “Where do you think you need to improve in your work performance?” Nowadays, he has a different approach. He asks employees to reflect on what they are doing well.

“No one needs a review on their inferior qualities or abilities,” he said. “Any of us can list our weaknesses.”

This approach works outside of the workplace, too. Married couples will grow stronger together if they verbalize the other person’s best points. Talking about your mate’s weaknesses too much is going to undermine what you’ve built.

“You certainly don’t want to tell your mate how bad her financial skills are after 10 years of marriage,” a marriage therapist we talked to said. “A better approach would be suggesting you both work on improving finances together.”

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Here are key messages to give all the people you care about:

“I always have your back.” This means you bolster other people’s efforts, especially when things aren’t going well. You smooth things over when a problem is temporary. If a problem is large, discuss what needs to change with your friend or co-worker in private.

“I’m thankful for all you do.” Praise even the tiniest act of kindness. Build other people up whenever you get a chance.

“I value your advice.” Make sure others around you believe you respect them. Without respect, there is no real relationship going on.

“When we’re apart, I speak well of you to other people.” Share a scenario with someone about how you recommended their expertise to another person. Tell someone you are proud to have them in your circle of life.

“If you have a problem, you can trust me to help.” Being available to uplift others and offer real help takes some testing. Practice being supportive when a challenge arises.

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“I can clearly see why I got divorced 10 years ago,” Allen, a retired military official, said. “I’m a control freak, and I tried to make my wife feel inferior. I didn’t know it then, but my adult son has pointed it out many times.”

Allen’s son told him: “Dad, you always acted like Mom was an employee. You knocked her down with your daily ego trip. No woman can put up with that.”

If you feel tension in any of your relationships, ask, “Is this my problem, or is the tension coming from the other person?” All of us must practice some humility in close relationships.

Paying a few compliments, offering physical or financial help, and giving an occasional “two thumbs up” will keep others feeling supported. Your supportive circle of friends, family and co-workers may one day be your shield from pain and trouble.

“After my wife died, and I had a subsequent heart attack, I found out quickly who supported me and who did not,” said Aaron, a high school principal. “The investments I’d made in people kept me sane and ready to live life again.”

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Judi Light Hopson is executive director of the stress management website USA Wellness Café at usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.

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