Reciprocity: Strengthening Your Support Network

Many of us have people in our lives who fulfill a particular function, and our healthiest relationships are based upon reciprocal and mutual satisfaction. For example, you may show love for a friend by sending her a surprise chocolate gift basket when you know she’s in the midst of a bad breakup. She may then reciprocate at a later juncture, perhaps by covering the bill on your next catch-up lunch date together. This example of reciprocal kindness can be a recipe for building a stronger bond, and thereby stronger support, with your friend.

That’s not to say you need to buy gifts for others in order to strengthen your relationships with the individuals in your life. What I’m alluding to are various forms of expressions of kindness. These can be verbal courtesies (such as saying ‘please’ or ‘thank you,’ which many of us are often too rushed to say), which can truly go a long way when it comes to solidifying your network. How many times have you not said ‘thank you’ to the cashier or barista working the counter at your favorite coffee shop in the morning? If you’re not guilty, great! Keep it up. Because I bet that if you routinely express appreciation and kindness for others, then the people you see day-in and day-out will remember you. And within the context of that daily experience, you’ll have connected with someone who you’ve affected, no matter how minute the gesture may be. And maybe they will reciprocate in kind the next time they see you, in whatever fashion they choose that is unique to them. Maybe the barista will give you a larger cup of coffee on the house, because they appreciated that you remembered their name. Maybe the cashier will compliment your coat because they thought it was kind of you that you asked them how their day was going.

The give-and-take nature of relationships should not be taken for granted. When any relationship becomes too one-sided, or insular, emotions such as resentment and anger can stew and simmer. If you notice that someone is a ‘giver’ and the other is a ‘taker,’ negative emotions are likely to surface, and potentially cause damage to the relationship. If you recognize this in any of your relationships, it is important to take time to reflect upon the dynamic occurring within the context of the relationship, and to make an effort to discuss your perspective with the individual. This can apply to all sorts of relationships: in the work environment, with family members, or in romantic relationships. A dynamic of balanced reciprocity is needed in order for the relationship to work in a healthy way.

It is sometimes difficult to identify the people who you know you can count on, and who may qualify as your support network. I’d suggest maintaining awareness of your own behaviors, which can be a great starting point and reflective tool. You are a mirror to the world, and what you put out there is likely to be reflected back to you. You have the power to project your positive qualities to all those you encounter. People will notice if you do!

One last tip: surround yourself with positive people and relationships. Begin identifying the people you admire, the people who inspire you, and the people who take a genuine interest in you. You never know … a small exchange of reciprocity can evolve into an interpersonal bond that can strengthen in a supportive way over time.

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