Building Meaningful Relationships

When I think about the most influential people in my life, people who I admire and respect, it’s hard to pinpoint one feature about them that stands out. In fact, I am hard pressed to think of a single word that captures their best attributes—hard to pinpoint one thing alone that they have done to make such a difference in my life. However, I can tell you one word that I never think of when I remember these valued people:


Now granted we all have experienced a parent “talk to us,” and certainly had a teacher, preacher, and well-meaning adult “talk at us.” But I rarely recall such exchanges as being as powerful and life changing as when an older, more seasoned individual found authentic ways to engage me and then “talk with” me. An old, familiar adage goes like this:

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.” ―Confucius

Launching a more vibrant, meaningful relationship with new generations may be a bit daunting, even clumsy at first, but the impact it can have on the young person and you can be profound.  Here’s a couple of keys to starting and building great relationships with next generations:

Share a Meal

Sounds simplistic, but I think one of the best ways to break the ice is to “break bread” together. Whether it is light—like a quick stop for a hot drink or a favorite frozen yogurt—or even something more like a lunch or a family supper, there is nothing that feels more natural than sharing conversations while enjoying something to eat.

Share an Interest

There are things that you already enjoy. Maybe it’s a hobby or a sport, a genre of film or a style/era of art. Common interests are great points of connection to build on in relationship. Whether you love theme parks or libraries, enjoy escape rooms or horticulture, start there and see how the relationship might grow and deepen.

Share a Service Experience

I’ve found younger generations to be very passionate about making a positive difference in the world. When you roll up your sleeves side by side, conversations will naturally develop. Whether it is some service activity in the local neighborhood, a short-term mission trip, or some ongoing volunteering with a community agency, joining forces in doing good is a wonderful way to foster deeper relationships.

Share Stories, Start with Theirs

Young people certainly benefit from the life experiences of older generations, but there is something profound when adults intentionally lean in to listen to the stories of those who are younger. Being interested in their experiences and valuing their perspective makes a difference in young lives. Encouraging younger generations to share their stories is the on ramp to their sharing their lives.

Magic Words: “Tell Me More”

Too often I’m not really listening, I’m just preparing to respond. Often, I’m just waiting my turn to talk rather than really hearing what the person has to say. A helpful hack in building better relationships is using the phrase, “Tell me more,” or some variation of it to help me linger longer in listening to what a young person is sharing.

Growing Young co-author, Jake Mulder shares, “Leadership begins with listening.”

For all these sharing keys, the relationship deepens as I take a genuine interest in the life of that young person. As I listen empathically, invest time, and look for ways to involve young people in my life, I’ve found the meaningful relationships that ensue impacting both of us for the good.

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