Exploring Interpersonal Skills: Boundaries, Trust & Holding Space

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This past April, Building Caring Communities (BCC) hosted its second discussion around a key determinant to resilience: interpersonal skills. (Read our first determinant discussion on positive outlook) Our working definition of interpersonal skills being:

The skills and dispositions that help you navigate the social realm successfully, creating mutually beneficial and satisfying connections, built on a foundation of trust and respect.

Us Connectors have some hunches around the skills and dispositions that help our participants navigate the social realm – reciprocity, flexibility, caring, levity, honesty – but they’re just that – hunches. So we gathered one evening in April with some of our ‘Interpersonal Skills Superstars’ in the hopes of digging deeper. I suppose it should come as no surprise that our scheduled two-hour discussion flew by. For we were, after all, in the company of some of our chattiest and friendliest.

To start, we invited each participant to take a guess as to why they thought they were invited, and some interesting themes emerged: being friendly and caring, meeting and talking to new people, holding space, asking for support when needed, and mobilizing networks. Then, we went around the circle and each took a turn drawing a card with a question or scenario related to Interpersonal Skills. One question asked the participants to connect boundaries to healthy and sustainable relationships and an engaged discussion ensued around different types of boundaries – physical, emotional, communications – and how to maintain them without pushing people away.

Later in the evening, as an extension of that topic, we discussed ‘deal breakers’ in our relationships. One participant disclosed her boundaries around honesty and a past friendship that broke that trust; another about a friend who liked to break the rules and had a negative influence in his life (“sometimes you need to let [friends] go”); while another drew a firm line around manners – no stealing food off her plate!

Trust was central to our discussion. It came up again and again, as a catalyst for being open and caring. If we’re not trusting enough to be open and put ourselves out there, how can our relationships ever grow? For the participants, trust meant a ‘safe space’, that feeling you have in the company of your family and those who care about you, and the result of “long friendship[s]”. It’s someone being there for you. Trust seems to be the inner state that precedes a willingness to communicate boundaries and practice non-judgment and compassion.

It wasn’t just the content of what was said that was of interest, but the way participants were saying it – their body language, their tone of voice, their energy. We witnessed countless hugs, levity and laughter (a couple good belly laughs, in fact), patience, kindness, and communication finesse. And when one participant vulnerably opened up about being shy, what followed was a sincere display of compassion from the group. One woman looked her straight in the eyes and validated and normalized her struggle with such genuine conviction and kindness. This vulnerable moment seemed to outwardly mark the extent to which the group was trusting. A group that, only a couple of hours ago, had been perfect strangers.

When our discussion wrapped up, there was a real felt sense of camaraderie and lightness in the air. In fact, it took us a good 20 minutes to finish our goodbyes. Several asked: “when’s the next get together?” Many of our hunches were confirmed that evening as well as our belief in the incredible insight and skills of our participant community. The biggest ‘aha’ moment being that ‘Interpersonal Skills’ are as much about the hard skills as they are about the inner states – our capacity to open our hearts and to trust. In the words of Stephen Covey:

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationship

Contributed By: Katherine Howell

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