I think it’s safe to say that most of us believe that relationships are a key part of life. Who we spend our time with and the nature of those interactions have a huge effect on our well-being. Most people would not dispute that. But I would venture to say that we often underestimate and underappreciate the value and impact of relationships on our lives, both personal and professional. After some recent reflection, I wanted to share my thoughts on how the relationships we build can affect the trajectory of our lives, and how we can strive for success in them.

Why Are Relationships Important?

I think it’s very easy to recognize how impactful they are on our personal lives. Our families, friends and significant others are a huge component of our happiness. And positivity in these relationships is key, if not paramount, to happiness. But with a bit of work experience, it becomes evident that the power of relationships is just as important in professional life.  Take, for example, an undergraduate student applying to medical school. Of course the student’s demonstrated ability and qualifications are the first step toward acceptance. But beyond grades and test scores, what do schools closely evaluate? One enormous factor is letters of recommendation. How a person is perceived and evaluated by their peers and their superiors is arguably as important as their competence. And in my opinion, the truth of this statement increases as one goes further along in their career. At each step of career advancement, you enter a group of more qualified individuals. So what is there left to differentiate among the crowd? Relationships. An individual’s ability to connect with their employees, peers or superiors is a huge determinant of how successful they will be professionally. And specifically in the sphere of medicine: whether it is your PI (principal investigator) as an undergrad, your mentor as a med student, or your program director as a resident, if those people you have worked with have a strong and positive relationship with you, they will be infinitely more likely to provide you a strong recommendation. And you can bet that those recommendations will help vault you into the next stratosphere of your career.

How to Generate Success in Your Interpersonal Relationships

There is obviously no correct answer to this question, as most people would have different yet equally valid opinions. But based on my experiences, I will provide you my 3 keys to developing successful relationships, both personal and professional.

1. Be Positive

This sounds simple but it is so, so important. At every possible moment, strive to be the person who finds the positive aspects of a situation rather the one who focuses on the negatives. Be vocal about this positivity. Express support to those around you. Build camaraderie. Smile. Laugh. These are all very simple things to do but they can be hard, particularly during times of stress. But I have realized that a positive person stands out in a crowd of negativity. A positive attitude is infectious and is something people gravitate towards. Be that person that people want to be around due to your positive nature, and I ensure you that your relationships will be enhanced.

2. Be Confident

Now there is a fine line between confident and cocky, and this is not to be dismissed. I would encourage confidence in yourself in all your interactions, but careful avoidance of cockiness. How does one achieve that? I think the importance of confidence starts first with being comfortable with yourself. This requires a strong belief in your own abilities. That may mean challenging yourself to more social or professional situations which are outside your comfort zone in order to grow as a person. That may also mean preparing, putting in the time and work so that you are confident in what you are capable of. But when one is confident and believes in what they can contribute, without shying away from the spotlight, that is impressive. No doubt about that. On the flip side, I think avoiding cockiness means respecting others opinions despite your confidence in your own. It also means not flaunting your success to others because this is never a flattering behavior. It will not inspire good feelings in those around you to throw your successes in their face. In fact, I think this is so important I will discuss it more in a moment in #3 below. To finish the thought on the power of confidence: once again take for example a premedical student who is now working on research. If given the opportunity to send an email to the PI about his/her research findings, or meet with the PI to discuss the research in person, the student should always choose to meet in person. Be confident. Seize the moment. Don’t shy away from that opportunity to demonstrate your caliber. That confidence and your willingness to meet a challenge will be impressive, especially to those that matter.

3. Be Humble

This is crucial, and may even be the most important in my personal opinion. Although we can probably think of successful individuals at the peak of their fields—whether it be a surgeon or a CEO—who do not demonstrate this ideal, I believe that humility goes a long way in cultivating strong relationships. In my opinion, one of the most impressive types of people is one that is extremely competent and accomplished yet extremely humble. Not flaunting your own strengths but actually appreciating the strengths of those around you allows others to relate to you much more easily. People gravitate toward this humility just as they gravitate toward positivity. I have found that it is a key trait in every kind of relationship. Humility, whether with a significant other, friend or colleague, will show that person respect and allow for a connection which would otherwise be impossible in the face of pride.

Conclusion

So, to wrap up: let us all remember that the relationships we build on a daily basis are extremely important to the lives we lead. We work on them every day, fortifying the old ones and trying to create success in new ones. Be mindful of how you approach these situations because strong and successful relationships will be a crucial to achieving your goals in life.