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How to Create Sustainable Friendships

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!

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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So if you’ve let your network deteriorate and your little black book is so out-of-date your Christmas cards would be “returned to sender,” (if you were to ever send any!), then don’t worry.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?”

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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:

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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.

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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!

  1. 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!)
  2. Meet people for coffee when you’re in the area.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

More by this author

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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