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Grow relationships in your garden of life

As we move into mid-August, the fruits of local gardens are beginning to show up on the various roadside vendor stands. Strawberries, cucumbers, peas, beans, and corn — all fruits of our labour that bring a special enjoyment at this time of year. And then, before you know it, fall harvest time will soon be here.

However, just reflecting on these splendid days made me think about a statement by author Robert Louis Stevenson. He said, "Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant."

This statement is so appropriate, not only for small family gardeners, or farmers for that matter but also for all of those employees who are vacationing at their favourite campsite, family cottage or simply resting at home. While our vacations typically consist of travel, rest and relaxation, most vacations also give rise to the opportunity to meet new people.

Meeting new people is just like planting seeds in your garden. You meet a new person, start a conversation and determine if there is anything in common. If this is a relationship you wish to nurture, you make arrangements to continue "watering and fertilizing," or in other words, helping the relationship to grow.

While this description is rather simplistic, summer is a great time to meet new people and begin developing new, valuable relationships. It is also a good time to revisit relationships that have stagnated somewhat due to the lack of time most of us suffer from. Also, because people are more relaxed and less rushed in the summer, they are more than willing to spend more time than usual in casual conversation.

Yet, networking for successful career management and the development of new friendships is essential at any time of the year, and there is plenty of research showing that having positive relationships in one’s life is key to healthy living. So, as individuals and as professionals, it’s wise to look at summertime not only as a time for relaxation but as a great time to look for opportunities to meet new people and develop new relationships. After all, summer offers so many places to go and so many activities to do.

With this in mind, I offer the following as some activities where you can meet new people or become reacquainted.

Take a community walk: Whether you are staying home, are out at a cottage or are parked in a campground, walking around your area will put you in touch with other people who have similar interests. Plan on an evening walk. Smile, stop and say hello to everyone you meet. When you encounter other people, give them your brightest smile and start a conversation. If you meet up with some tourists, reach out to provide assistance.

If you don’t already know the people you meet, ask what brought them out to this location. Share your insights about the location, about the resources and about your walk. Each and every evening when you meet the same people, be sure to smile and say hello. Take time to start finding new people and finding things in common with them.

Attend special events: Summer is full of special events, ranging from a local stampede or festival, golf tournaments, charity events, and farmers markets, as well as weddings and family reunions. Plan to attend some of these events and, if possible, become a volunteer. Volunteering gives you more time to meet people and establish relationships.

Plan your own event: Invite guests to your home, whether it be your neighbours, colleagues from work or friends from your various associations or volunteer work. Select people who will have similar interests, as this stimulates conversation. It’s amazing how many people are connected in some way. That old saying about six degrees of separation is really quite true.

Share photos: Almost everyone has a cellphone with photography capabilities. Take advantage and take photos that can be sent to your newfound friend or posted on your social media pages. Be sure to send them on to your new network contacts.

On the other hand, there is also plenty of etiquette advice with respect to creating new and effective conversations. After all, the goal is to build positive relationships, rather than "tripping over your tongue" and causing hard feelings.

The following are some of the social rules we should follow.

Limit direct questions: There is nothing more annoying than an individual firing off so many questions without waiting for an answer, making the conversation feel more like an interrogation. Take it slow and give the person time to think about what you have asked and pose a response. Frame your next question based on their answer so there is smooth back-and-forth communication.

Use open-ended questions: This type of question allows for broader answers, rather than a simple yes or no. It invites more in-depth conversation and gives each speaker the opportunity to share more of themselves.

Focus: There is nothing more annoying than starting a conversation with someone, while at the same time checking your cell phone or looking over your shoulder to see what else is going on. Doing this suggests your interest is superficial and that you are not really interested in the individual. It is rude, and will only cause people to turn away as they see no value in a potential relationship.

Avoid game playing: A frequent conversation no-no occurs when a speaker compares themselves to another person but tries to "best" them. This is called a "one-upmanship" strategy. Unfortunately, this creates a competition between the two speakers with respect to who has done more, seen more or has more. A competitive stance toward building a new relationship will not result in good friendships; in fact, it alienates people because it takes away their own personal time to shine.

Swearing: Peppering your conversation with a string of swear words is a big etiquette mistake. It is impolite and detracts from your message. Swearing might even suggest the speaker has a limited vocabulary, and therefore a limited education. First impressions count.

Taking over: Monopolizing a conversation and not allowing the other person equal time to speak is also a turnoff for new relationships. Conversations should bounce back and forth, rather than just one person speaking. If this continues, before you know it the other individual will have lost interest and may even have walked away.

Avoid interrupting: Not only do people hate being cut off in mid-sentence, but it is downright rude. It shows there is little interest in the conversation, or someone is showing the "I’m right" attitude. Either way, the conversation will not result in a relationship. Avoid interrupting at all costs.

The summer season is not just a time for reaping garden harvests; it is also a time to sow and reap the rewards of great conversations and the start of long-term relationships.

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