It's easy to clear out the clutter in your contact list or electronically block messages from people you no longer want to hear from. You can "unfriend" people on Facebook and block them on other social media.
But what do you do about human clutter in your life — the people you'd rather not spend time with anymore? They drink too much, cause too much drama, never really grew up, no longer share your values, are too negative, too potty-mouthed, or who only talk about themselves and never ask about you.
How do you move on and shift these people out of your life? And what if they're family members or co-workers you have to see every day?
It's such a common problem, particularly in the workplace, that psychologist Henry Cloud wrote a book about it, due out next month: The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have on You, From the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond (HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins, $27.99, May 3).
"All relationships leave a wake," Cloud said in a recent phone interview from his California home office. "You have to ask yourself from time to time, 'Is it time to move on?' "
He says athletes do it all the time. "I used to be a competitive golfer and it was not uncommon for a coach to say to a player, 'I was right for you when you were in college sports, but now you're going to a different level of play and somebody else will serve you better.' Doctors do it too when they refer you to a specialist."
Cloud suggests we may need to evaluate our personal relationships in a similar way and, in some cases, hire a new coach or pick a new doctor. It may not be easy, but sometimes it's necessary.
Cloud, a New York Times bestselling author and business and leadership consultant, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about some of the relationship strategies in his new book — and why, sometimes, people will choose not to end even the most frustrating relationships:
We've heard it described as relationship spring cleaning, this purging of people from our lives. How do you see it? Is it really necessary?
The reality is that our relationships involve humans. There are those people who are loving, kind, responsible, respectful. And there are those who can sometimes cause a lot of pain. We have to be diligent about asking periodically, "How's this going? Is there some way that I can be a force to help this person? Or is the destruction and pain too much and I have to walk away?"
Should we do it on a schedule, say once a year?
Once a year or once an ouch! It's not related to a clock. I think there are seasons to different relationships. Some people are meant to go through all the seasons together and there are others who are there just for one season. Our needs may change or we might outgrow that relationship and need to move on. Relationships change as we change. Always ask yourself, "How's it going? Am I being fulfilled? Am I meeting the other person's needs in this relationship?"
How do you know it's over?
You'd think we would know, right? Sometimes people get into a stage where they think everything is going okay, but it's not. CEOs in business do this all the time. They don't notice the collateral damage being cause by one person and how that's affecting everyone else in the company. You have to look inside and ask what does it feel like to be with this person, how do they affect me, my thinking, my soul. What are the reasons I'm in this relationship? Is it fruitful? Ask the other person out of empathy and concern: How is it going for you? Is this relationship helpful? Are your needs being met?
Are there any behavior cues to watch for?
First, do you feel trapped? Are you in danger? Do you need help getting out of a relationship? That's when you call on the police or a lawyer or a trusted friend. Second, has the person become irresponsible, is not living up to their side of the relationship, doesn't care how their behavior affects you? It happens with addicts all the time — drugs, alcohol, gambling, whatever it is. Have you laid out your expectations for the relationship? I expect you to show up, contribute, act responsibly, be a team player. If you can't do that, I have to end it. You're defining how the relationship has to work. You may still see this person and be friendly, but the relationship has changed.
What about a person you like at times, but they also have a side you just can't stand?
That can be very draining. You have to ask yourself, "Do I want this relationship to continue in this way, as a brain-drain relationship?" If you don't, you have to tell that person what you want from the relationship. Here's an example: someone who only talks about themselves. Say to the person, "I really like you and I like spending time with you so please don't get offended, but when we get together I walk away at the end and I feel alone. I don't feel like we had a conversation. I was just a listener." Or, you may decide that listening is going to be your service to your friend and decide to periodically put up with. The relationship is not about what you get out of it.
What if there's a problem with a family member?
If the person is annoying, you overlook the behavior. If it's hurtful, causing pain, you can't allow it to continue. The family will have to come together and decide on a plan to address it.
It's surprising how much of an impact people can have on us and how we feel.
That's what The Power of the Other is about. Other people affect us, for good or for bad. That's why it's important to be mindful of your relationships. Some people don't get along with their in-laws. There are times when you bite the bullet and go visit the in-laws for family peace and not to get anything out of it. We don't have to get something out of every relationship. Sometimes you do it just for the privilege of serving another.
Contact Irene Maher at firstname.lastname@example.org.