All types of relationships take work. Here are 3 rules for improving your communication from the start.

Relationships take work. No matter the type of relationship, either romantic, familial or friendship, in order for the relationship to be happy and healthy, it takes nurturing and commitment and, you guessed it: communication.

When a new relationship is starting, sometimes the communication is harder because you haven’t figured out each other’s style yet. It’s important to communicate clearly, well, and early to help build a solid foundation for the relationship at hand.

Whether you’re dating someone new, building a new friendship, starting a new job or just looking for better ways to connect at a party, we have a few tips for you!

1. Avoid flash judgements.

It’s easy to take a look at someone and decide at first glance who they are and whether or not you’re interested in getting to know them. While it’s true that you only get one first impression, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Hey–if we’re going to mention cliches, we have to cover both sides of the balance, right?

It’s easy to make a quick decision but you have to remember that not everyone is completely themselves at first glance. I’m pretty shy when meeting new people but once I get more comfortable I relax and turn into my joke-making self. I remember a coworker mentioning how she hadn’t realized I was funny because I was “calm and collected” all of the time. This was maybe six months into me working with her! I tended to be more reserved at work until I finally decided to try to get to know my peers better and relaxed around them.

The point is, the first time you interact with someone may not be a reflection of who they really are. It takes a few times to see someone’s true personality.

2. Make better small talk.

Small talk is HARD. Once you run out of weather conversation, what’s left? Sports? Jobs? I used to hate making small talk at parties or bars because it always ended up with “where did you go to school?” or “what do you do?” At one point, I hated my job so much that I dreaded going to parties because I didn’t want to be the person who complained about her job to strangers, but also couldn’t put on a brave face and fake loving my job.

As silly as it might sound, I made a point to come up with new, better, conversation starters and topics to avoid the nothing-to-talk-about-rut. My go-to questions:

  • Are you watching any current shows on TV?
  • Are you binge-watching anything on Netflix?
  • What was the last book you read? Or What book would you recommend to your Best Friend? Or to a Stranger?
  • What do you like to do outside of work?
  • What are your favorite things about (place you live in)?
  • What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in (place you live/ are in) ?
  • Do you have any trips planned this year? Or a dream destination?

Not all of these are applicable to every conversation, but it’s important to remember that there is more to life than where we work, where we went to school, or what the weather is doing. It’s 2017! There’s so much going on in the world, we can make a connection over almost anything.

Related: How To Master The Art of Small Talk

I recently had a conversation at a holiday party that started off as me complimenting a woman’s unique (glittery-fantastic) phone case and the conversation turned into a discussion about how millennials interact today versus people our age who interacted 10 or 20 years ago who were sans smart phones and internet.

3. Honestly express your intentions and boundaries.

Whether you’re making a new friend, getting to know a new coworker, or building a relationship with someone you’re newly dating, it’s so important to clearly communicate your intentions. That can mean that you need to clearly express a need, such as response times when texting or calling.

For example, if you’ve texted someone and they don’t respond for three days, it can feel like you’re being ignored. That’s not how I like to feel, and it’s not how I like to make my friends/person of interest feel. So, even though it can be tough to address, it’s important to establish boundaries so that neither party feels they’re being ignored, or pressured to respond in a certain way.

When I worked in customer service I was on the phone for my entire day and I wasn’t able to check my phone, my personal email, or hop on gchat as casually as some of my other friends did. I made sure to communicate to my friends and family that I wasn’t trying to ignore them, but rather that I was unavailable from 9-5:30 during the workweek. Most friends understood and no one felt that they were being slighted.

Related: How To Start Communicating Effectively In Your 20s

Another friend of mine was starting to date after getting out of a serious relationship and she made sure to express her intention with dating early on. She told the guys she met that she had recently gotten out of a long-term relationship, and while she had moved on from that relationship she wasn’t interested in rushing into anything. She was looking to get to know people, and see where things led, but didn’t want to assume that any date would lead to a relationship. This early conversation allowed for her to meet some interesting people and relax enough to enjoy actually getting to know them. No one’s feelings were hurt when after a few dates things petered out because expectations were acknowledged.

Communication takes practice and it will probably not be easy the first time you try to approach a new topic or discuss a need you have with communication style. But, it’s important to keep trying and keep working on it, both in new relationship and with current ones. Clear communication is the foundation of a happier, less-stressful relationship.

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