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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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