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8 Mistakes That are Costing You Your Friendships

8 Mistakes That are Costing You Your Friendships

Maintaining friendships is one the most important and fulfilling things we do. But it’s also hard work. Here are eight mistakes we make that threaten our valuable friendships, along with ways to overcome them.

1. You don’t listen.

In familiar friendships, it is easy to fall into this trap. You’ve known this person for so long that you know what they are going to say before they say it. So, you interrupt constantly and miss important communication cues because of your assumptions. Over time, opportunities for misunderstandings and communication breakdowns will increase.

The solution: Don’t assume you know what your friend is going to say. Contrary to popular practice, listening is not passive but active. Develop active listening skills by learning to remove or ignore distractions. Great active listeners are also excellent observers of other communication cues, such as tone of voice and body language. Another good active listening technique is to ask as many follow-up questions as you can before you offer your own input. The truth is that your friend may not be seeking your advice, but simply your sympathetic ear.

Developing your active listening skills will revolutionize your friendships and other important relationships in your life.

2. You don’t keep your word.

This mistake is often subtle. Most of us don’t lie outright to our friends. Instead, you may find yourself saying yes to a request when you should say no. This is usually driven by fear of offending a friend or jeopardizing a relationship. The unhappy irony, of course, is that saying yes and not following through can be more harmful to the relationship than saying no upfront.

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The solution: Don’t agree to do something if you are unlikely to follow through. It is hard to turn your friends down. The key to doing it well is to simply be upfront and explain why you cannot commit to the request. True friends will respect you for your honesty and will stick around.

3. You take more than give in the relationship.

Again, most of us don’t consciously scheme on how to leverage a friend’s position, status, or personality traits for personal gain. We don’t think, “How can I take advantage of John’s generosity today?”

We exploit our relationships, often without being aware, in less obvious ways. You may find yourself constantly offloading your burdens to a friend while taking very little time to listen to his. You may get upset when he don’t call as often as you’d like, but never pick up the phone yourself. When you go out for lunch dates, you seldom offer to pay for the meal. In these and other little ways, you are in danger of overdrawing what Stephen Covey calls your “Emotional Bank Account.”

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey describes the Emotional Bank Account as “a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship.” You make emotional deposits through kindness, courtesy, honesty, and keeping your commitments. You make emotional withdrawals when you disrespect, ignore, threaten, and overreact. This perspective may sound cold and transactional, but Covey argues that awareness of this reality can lead to positive transformation within relationships.

Your average bank account cannot survive constant withdrawals with no deposits. Neither can your friendships.

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The solution: Begin to embrace the Emotional Bank Account model. Try to visualize where your account currently stands with your relationship. This is by no means scientific, but if you are honest with yourself you will get a sense of whether you have built up a surplus or are in the deficit zone. If you are in the red, start making deposits by becoming more proactive.

4. You’re not vulnerable enough.

Being vulnerable is hard, even among close friends. It means letting go of outward appearances and going deeper. It’s risky but it’s the only path to deepening our friendships.

The solution: Don’t hide weaknesses and struggles. Learn to talk about them freely with your inner circle. Often your ability to open gives the other person permission to be more open himself. People feel privileged when you trust them enough to be vulnerable and will likely treat these moments with utmost respect. Trust and intimacy will skyrocket.

5. You don’t stay in touch.

This one happens more easily and frequently than we care to admit. The days and months effortlessly become years. Eventually, we become afraid to get in touch due to fears of being rejected.

The solution: The truth is that most of us are busy. Our friends are more forgiving than we think. They may even be struggling with similar fears. End the standoff. Just pick up the phone and call. Send a text. You might be amazed at how quickly they respond.

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6. You’re more concerned about keeping up appearances rather than developing the relationship.

We all compare ourselves to others naturally, even subconsciously. This is true among good friends. We compare our jobs, clothes, cars, income, significant others, and the list goes on. This is natural and expected, to some extent. The problem arises when we are constantly chasing our friends who always seem to have more of what we have.

The solution: Go back to basics. What common values brought you together? What do you value most about this person? You were likely drawn to this person for who they are rather than what they do or what they have.

7. Your expectations for the other person are too high.

We often have to adjust our expectations of our friends as our relationships progress due to life changes. Still, we struggle to adjust to new realities and can make the mistake of expecting the same level of commitment from our friends after major life changes. This can lead to misunderstandings and may cause one or both parties to simply walk away from the relationship.

The solution: Prepare yourself for the fact that things will change and that your expectations will need to be adjusted over time. This does not mean that your friendships will be diminished. Approach this reality from a positive viewpoint. Be realistic about what this person can and cannot do for you.

8. You don’t apologize (sincerely).

We’re all familiar with the insincere apology. We see it in the media among celebrities and politicians caught in wrongdoing. We experience it in our own relationships. You may even practice it yourself.

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Here it is in two forms: “I’m sorry if you were hurt by X or Y” or “I’m sorry but you never told me Z.” The key words that make these examples insincere are “if” and “but.” These words shift responsibility from you to the person you are apologizing to. It’s not a true apology and will do little to repair relationships.

If you hurt someone close to you, you’ve withdrawn a sizable amount of goodwill and trust from your Emotional Bank Account. You must apologize sincerely in order to make a deposit equal to or greater than what you withdrew. You must take full responsibility.

The solution: Commit to eliminating the words “if” and “but” when making an apology. Make this your apology template instead: “I’m sorry for what I did and for hurting you in the process. Will you forgive me?”

None of us are perfect at maintaining our relationships. The key is to become more aware and correct ourselves when we make mistakes. Your most important friendships are worth the effort.

Featured photo credit: Argument Conflict Controversy Dispute Contention/RyanMcGuire via pixabay.com

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Cylon George

A spiritual chaplain and blogger who writes about practical spiritual tips for busy people.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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