Life is rife with need for relational life skills

People are always asking me for advice. It’s uncanny. Wait, maybe it’s because I am a counselor and a family life educator. I probably should answer them instead of hiding behind the Dear Abby standard line of “seek the help of a competent therapist,” as that would suggest I am not one.
The most frequent questions are from people who need help with life skills, namely problem-solving, negotiation, decision-making, time management and tolerance. Sometimes I dispense sound information. Other times, I suggest they not bother going to the trouble of learning and applying those skills, as it’s much easier to default to the techniques of scapegoating, tyranny, vacillation, procrastination and complaining, for which many of us already have ample natural aptitude.
Let’s face it, the world can only afford to have so many competent, on-top-of-their-lifers. If everyone suddenly started behaving appropriately and responding calmly instead of reacting erratically, everything would be thrown off kilter. A certain percentage of blamers, control freaks, wafflers, feet draggers and whiners are needed to provide job security to people like me.
Professional helpers place too much emphasis on basic life skill education at the expense of relational life skill education. Getting our needs met while preserving our relationships is tricky business. Some might argue that an adequate grasp of the art of extreme selfishness would negate the need for any other relational life skills, but they would be wrong.
Take, for instance, the subtle relational life skill of taking credit for other people’s hard work and accomplishments. Doing so is highly-prized among ego-driven administrators, as evidenced by its popularity. Yet, taking credit for other people’s hard work is not a stand-alone skill. Rather, it functions in tandem with two other primary relational life skills: developing false trust and begging forgiveness if/when detected.
Here are my Top 10 Relational Life Skills for greasing the wheels of our interactions with one another:
1. Feigning Interest – With 90% of the average day’s conversations falling under the heading of “boring,” you can play your part in the daily drama by pretending otherwise. Bonus points for affirmative murmurings and nods at all the right times.
2. Listening to the Same Story Repeatedly – And not just stories, but jokes. This is especially important if you are married and/or work in a sales environment. It takes a special person to smile through the 158th retelling of the time your now middle-aged toddler accidentally locked the family out of the car at Disneyworld.
3. Avoiding Correcting the Storyteller – Not only will you be called upon to smile, but you will also have to resist correcting misinformation and exaggerations more often than 158 times.
4. Keeping a Straight Face – Equally important as smiling at the appropriate times is the ability to keep a straight face, particularly when the person who just put his/her foot in mouth has the power to fire or to divorce you.
5. Deferring to Other People’s Choices – Unless you can figure out how to always be in charge, you had better get good at going along to get along with others’ whims. They’re not going away.
6. Demurring Stupid Suggestions – Like mosquitoes needing to be swatted, stupid suggestions swarm. It’s up to you to tactfully strike down bad advice without draining the relationship swamp from which it sprang.
7. Apologizing for Things You Didn’t Do – Instinct has us look for where to lay blame, but absorbing blame in the name of keeping the peace and moving forward is a special, advanced skill few can master. Learn some rudimentary form of it, anyway.
8. Apologizing for Things Other People Did Do – This skill is direly needed if you intend to have children or find yourself supervising others. Opportunities to practice it are plentiful.
9. Talking Your Way Out of Things You Did Do – From traffic tickets to eating the last piece of leftover pizza, it’s important to have ready and reasonable rationalizations poised to mobilize.
10. Requesting Multiple, Undeserved Second Chances – The more outrageous your behavior, the more skilled you need to become at sounding remorsefully sincere about reformation. Of course, you could try just doing the right thing for a change, but that wouldn’t make for a funny column.

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