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How to Create Sustainable Friendships
You look at your cell phone. No messages. No calls. No voicemails.
You check your Facebook account, and no one is interacting with your posts, and yet other people seem to be having an amazing time, out and about, having discussions online and off.
And you begin to wonder…
“Is There Something Wrong With Me?”
And the answer is quite simply: no.
It’s just that you’ve let your network slip. Yes, you may be private and shy. Yes, you may also not agree with the principles of facebook, but staying in touch and maintaining friendships isn’t something that you should give up on.
Having people you connect with and belong with is one of the very basic human needs. Without it, we can feel outcasted and neurotic. Human contact is one of the most soothing and grounding things you can ever prescribe yourself–and is much better than eating, smoking and working yourself to death.
And that’s just how being lonely affects you on a personal level! Don’t even get me started about how essential other people are to your vocational success!
And it’s ok. I get it. Life gets in the way. Family stuff happens. Work stuff takes you out of it. But real, lasting friendships can withstand periodic absences.
So if you’ve let your network deteriorate and your little black book is so out-of-date your Christmas cards would be “returned to sender,” (if you were to ever send any!), then don’t worry.
Here’s how to rekindle your friendships and maintain them on an ongoing basis.
(Re)Kindling Existing Friendships
I get it. It can sometimes feel awkward to suddenly reach out to people you haven’t been in touch with for years. The reason it’s awkward is mostly just because you’re hallucinating rejection. The reality is, unless you’d left things on a very bad note, most people are THRILLED to hear from someone who they haven’t been in touch with for a while.
Reach out. Say hi. Take the risk. You’ll feel amazing when you get the message back, “OMG, where have you been? It’s been ages! So glad you got in touch again!!”
What do you say in that first message?
Well, start with hello. Acknowledge you’ve been off-the-radar. Apologize briefly if appropriate, and follow up with something like, “It’s been so long, I thought I’d reach out and just say hi. How is everything with you?”
If they live or work locally, arrange to meet up. Go for coffee. Get it in the diary, and remember to always, always, always follow up. Don’t get them to respond with a “yes, when is good for you?” and then just let the rekindling lapse again. You laugh, but I see people do this all the time in business stuff.
Ok, so now you’ve rekindled a few friendships, and as you might imagine, this is only half the story. The trick is to never let friendships get to that embarrassing point where you need to drag them back from the brink and re-learn everything you knew about a person.
The thing is, you don’t need to be in constant contact with someone to maintain a relationship. You need to create meaningful connections and creating positive experiences when you do connect so that the other person will always want to connect with you.
Keeping The Flame Going
Ok, so staying in contact is useful, but doesn’t have to be every week. How frequently you need to be in touch with people depends on the relationship, what each person is used to and how many other friends and commitments each has.
All you really need to do is to think of people and just connect over anything, though. It could be something silly on facebook. It could be an email to say hi. It could be a quick coffee between meetings if you’re in the area, or drinks after work. It doesn’t need to be a chore, and even if you’re not very outgoing, elect to do something that you’ll both enjoy.
It’s getting easier and easier to stay in touch with people with modern tech–we have Skype, Face Time, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, email. We even have the old fashioned text and phone! The list goes on. That’s not to say that you connect only through these means; far from it, there is no substitute to really connecting with people in person, but technology makes it easier in those in-between times.
Create Rather Than Consume
Here’s the biggest learning I’ve experienced in both business and personal relationships:
Friendships are more meaningful and profound when they are based on creation rather than consumption. What does that mean?
Friendships based on getting a group of people together for dinners or drinks don’t tend to last long when people show up with the attitude that they want to be entertained. They go to consume, to get something from the experience, to be a passive component where the success of their experience rests on the restaurants, the other people, and the evening’s entertainment. This is why heading down to the same bar each night with the goal of just “consuming” soon meets with boredom.
The most meaningful and profound friendships I’ve ever formed have been with people who I’ve been creating something with, whether it was a video project, a marketing campaign, an event or workshop. Having a common goal to make something happen means that each party is invested emotionally and in terms of effort to show up and be present. Energy and intention is committed to the project outcome and the relationship in the process. Common objectives bring people closer and bind them together. Similarly, it’s no accident that people who survive intense experiences also bond on a level far deeper than in day-to-day experiences.
But it’s not confined to work-like projects.
People who share common activities create lasting friendships. I’ve recently started back at Tae Kwondo in the area I now live, and was invited to the club Christmas dinner. What was fantastic was the family atmosphere and air of cooperation and mutual support between people who train together. Common interests and goals create meaningful friendships.
Sounds like a subtle difference between showing up to create, or showing up to be entertained?
It is, until you start increasing your awareness in this way; then you’ll be able to see who is creating and who is consuming. Yes, that’s right–you can have creators and consumers all at the same event potentially.
How To Create Meaningful Connections
Noticing this, I started to wonder: how does one apply this to an existing network? Whether they are new acquaintances or old friends, or contacts? In fact, how does this apply in a family?
If it all boils down to creating rather than consuming, a simple shift in attitude can make all the difference. Here are some simple guidelines to follow to create all the meaningful connections your contacts list can handle!
- Make the effort to show up to events, parties, and get-togethers. Don’t think, “what is in it for me?” Go with the intention to connect with people and contribute something, whether it is your energy, your assistance, or your own connections. In fact, if you can take someone new along, so much the better. (Obviously this isn’t always appropriate, but people love meeting new people, once they get over the initial awkwardness!)
- Meet people for coffee when you’re in the area.
- Make a point of dropping a note to a few people a week. Use your contact list on your phone, or your friends list on Facebook or wherever it is that you store contacts.
- Don’t know what to say? Just say hi, and ask them what is new in their world. Maybe share something that is new for you.
- Don’t be despondent if you don’t get a 100% response rate. People move on, phone numbers change, life is busier than any time in history. Plus, maybe they have not have read this article. ;) Cut them some slack!
Who Would You Love To Be Back In Touch With?
So there we have it.
Creating and maintain sustainable friendships isn’t rocket science, but it takes a bit of effort on your part. If done well, and consistently, you will never be short of friends, connections and people to share your life with.
And all it takes in the first instance is a tiny shift in attitude: create rather than consume!
Who would you like to be in touch with? Reach out to them right now, and just say hi. The holiday season is a particularly good time for this because people are going to be around at home and winding down work activities between now and the end of the year. Send a text, a card, or make a call. You’ll be pleased you made the effort, and so will they!
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