The Ultimate Relationship Skill You Never Knew You Needed
My first job out of college I worked for a master party planner. My boss was legendary for the elegant, high-class events he put on for executives. The events were impressive because of the gorgeous settings, ritzy hotels, and world-class chefs, but that is not what made them amazing.
The true secret to his genius was his attention to detail.
Before the events, we pre-tasted every meal with the chef to ensure perfection. We walked every meeting room with a tape measure to precisely position chairs and table settings. We made sure each hor d’oeurve was the perfect size to eat in a single bite so they were easy for guests to eat without having to juggle their wine. Once, we even had a prominent 5-star hotel replace every light bulb in the ballroom to make sure the ambiance was just right.
It was a heck of a lot of work, but in the end our events were impeccable. My boss had learned the specifics of what it took to throw a fabulous event – flawless acoustics, perfect lighting, strategic timing, brilliantly selected meals, Louis Martini cabernet, and (for the love of Pete) short centerpieces that people can see over! And in the end all those details paid off.
I’m convinced details are just as important to relationships as they are to throwing epic parties.
Specificity. It’s the ultimate relationship skill you never knew you needed.
Practicing specificity is the act of paying attention to the details. It’s noticing the small things, considering the particulars.
It’s easy to be specific when it involves our own preferences. (I just ordered a non-fat, half-calf, two pump sugar-free vanilla misto…) But that’s not the relationship skill I’m talking about. Not many of us need help becoming more high-maintenance,
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Instead, think about want happens when we practicing specificity (paying attention to details) with our loved ones? It breeds thoughtfulness and reverberates selflessness. Specificity towards others is the ultimate form of humility and a key to great relationships.
Practicing specificity supercharges your ability to be others focused, like how eating carrots enhances our eyesight. Focusing closely to the needs, desires, and beauty in others helps us become great spouses, friends, siblings, and parents.
So, practically how do we practice specificity in regards to others?
One of the most effective ways to encourage someone is through verbal affirmation. No matter their love language, “a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
The other day my boss stopped during a meeting to tell me he appreciated the way I was thinking strategically about a specific issue regarding a client project. It was in the moment and exceptionally detailed encouragement. Those words meant one hundred times more to me than an ambiguous, “great job in that meeting, Morgan.”
I’m working tailoring my encouragement to be more detailed too. Instead of telling my sister vaguely, “I’m proud of you,” I’m trying to actually explain why I’m proud of her. Instead I’ll talk about her work ethic and kind heart and point to specific times when she’s exemplified those things. I know it means more, because it shows I’ve been paying attention.
With my girlfriends, I’m trying to be better at pointing out specific beautiful things I admire about their character or personality, rather then coping out with a “cute shoes!” complement.
How can you practice being specific with your words of encouragement?
In today’s fast paced world, there are few things more loving than slowing down to understand another person. My husband, David, is great at this. He is constantly asking me questions to understand my expectations and preferences—whether it involves weekend plans, the way we spend our money, or what we’ll do for dinner. He wants to know the specifics so he can serve me better.
It is not only thoughtful, it’s smart. Understanding the specifics helps us work together and avoid conflict.
With my friends and co-workers I try to do the same thing—seek to understand. Because when I understand what they value, I am able to be a better friend.
I know my friend Lucy Anne loves to be active, so instead of inviting her to grab chips and queso with me, I ask her to meet up for a long walk. I’ve learned which co-workers appreciate printed meetings agendas, so I make sure to print a copy for them when we meet. I know which type of restaurants my mom enjoys the most, so I know where to take her when she comes in town. I have plenty of opportunity to grow in this area, but I’m working to ask thoughtful questions and pay closer attention.
How can you take time to understand a friends or a loved ones’ expectations?
Every other Friday I meet with a group of girlfriends for coffee and prayer. Y’all, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the way those girls love and care for me. Not only do they take time to listen to what is going on in my life and marriage and career, they take the time to pray for me in detail. They pray for my specific fears and worries. They pray for small things going on in my week, the details of my relationships with my family, and the condition of my heart. They pray with specificity.
Way too often, I pray overly generalized blanket prayers for my friends and family, but these women inspire me to pray for the details.
Now, instead of simply telling a friend walking through a difficult season, “I’ll pray for you,” I try to find out how to pray for them with specificity. I keep a cute prayer journal with friend’s names and the details I’m bringing to God on their behalf as a reminder.
And while it is out of my comfort zone, I try to take every opportunity to pray for my friends with specificity when we are together—before we dig into lunch, after a heart-to-heart, sometimes even via text. I want them to know how much they are loved, heard, and cared for, just like my friends have reminded me.
I believe if we truly understood the power of prayer (see Matthew 7:7, 21:22), we would all be praying with specificity. How can you be more specific in the way you pray for your friends and loved ones?