Humans are social creatures. We crave companionship and belonging. Friendship is part of the human experience and can be one of the most rewarding aspects of life. Have you ever thought about the best strategy for cultivating meaningful friendships? I have spent the majority of my career learning about people. This study has primarily focused on understanding what motivates people and how we most effectively connect. It occurred to me that there should be a set of guidelines for establishing and maintaining meaningful friendships. My hope is that this list helps you build deeper and more meaningful friendships or at least inspires you to ponder what is important for you.
- Be a good listener. The most interesting people we meet are often those that ask questions and listen. They encourage others to speak, and then they listen. Most of us wait to respond without actually listening to the other person. Listening is a skill that anyone can develop, but it requires exercising our ears and not our mouth. Listen twice as much as you talk. The old adage is Two Ears and One Mouth. Says easy, does hard – I know!
- Be Genuine or Authentic. People are naturally inwardly focused. This inward focus causes a couple of things to happen: the first is judgment and the second is exploitation. Judgment inhibits our ability to establish genuine relationships. Exploitation means that we seek to be served in the relationship versus serving in the relationship. To be genuine or authentic in friendship is to have pure intentions for the other person. Don’t pretend to like another person. My experience has been that most everyone has likeable qualities, but not everyone is likeable. Regardless of likeability, we should do our best to be genuine to the other person without pursuing a meaningful friendship if that is what we choose.
- Do Not Gossip! We inherently do not trust people that gossip. I often see gossiping used as a strategy for fostering connection. “Did you see what so and so did?” Gossip triggers negative collaboration, which might seem like a genuine connection, but gossiping is almost always negative. Who wants to be around negative people? Answer: other negative people. Negative people struggle with all of their relationships – mainly because the relationships are built on judgment, contempt and low self-esteem. Show me someone that gossips and I will show you someone who doesn’t think highly of their self. These people hide their low self-esteem by attempting the lower the perception of those around them – so sad and so obvious. Of course, they never wake to the cycle of negativity because their EGO won’t have anything to do with them being the real problem in their relationships.
- Show Up – Every Time – Friends show up for their friends no matter what. When called to serve in friendship we must show up to demonstrate our commitment to the other person. Real friends show up in the good times and the bad. If you have people in your life that aren’t showing up, recognize that they aren’t friends, they are acquaintances. Each of us has many acquaintances, and that is a good thing, just remember, true friends always show up.
- Give Far More Than You Take – Too often we are compelled to keep score in our friendships. Our intent should be to contribute in a meaningful way to our friends without expectation of anything in return. Contributing to our friends is the surest way to build meaningful and lasting friendships.
- Respond – Maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine, but when a friend reaches out to you, you should respond. “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer, but not responding at all is unacceptable if your desire is to maintain meaningful friendships. When a friend invites you to an event, RESPOND! The lack of response is a clear indicator regarding your commitment to the friendship. I have seen many relationships severed because the other person never responded. I must admit that I am recovering no-responder.
- Confidentiality – To maintain friendships built on trust, we must not compromise by breaching confidentiality. Similar to gossip, it can destroy friendships because something told in confidence should remain in confidence. Enough said here – zip thy lips.
- Offer Advice Upon Request – So often we are quick to offer unsolicited advice. You can imagine this is a struggle for me so if it is for you, I can relate. Too often we are compelled to tell people what they should do. The key here is that if you have the experience, then you are qualified to offer the advice. If you don’t have experience, then asking questions is the best response. Advice from someone that has been there can be helpful. Asking questions is a strategy for helping the other person formulate their response and better understand their desired situational outcome.
- Do Not Interrupt – The ultimate sign of disrespect is interrupting. It means the person sucks at #1. It means the person lacks #10. People that interrupt frequently, lack emotional intelligence and most often don’t care what you think. They have all the answers and can’t wait to tell you about them, or they have it all figured out and want you to know it. There is no justification for frequently interrupting another person. Friendships won’t develop for people that interrupt unless they find another interrupter that is too inwardly focused and not realizing they are being interrupted.
- Sincere Respect – Let’s face it if we don’t respect another person, it is not likely that we are going to build a meaningful friendship with them. Respecting another person is fundamental for cultivating a lasting relationship.
- Bring the Joy – Laughter is therapy, and lasting friendships have lots of laughter. It is not always fun and games, but if you want lasting friendships, the ratio between fun and serious, or positive and negative should be heavily skewed to fun and positive. Like 10 to 1. Be fun to be around, laugh at yourself, and laugh together. Two areas of warning here – do not overly tease one another (occasionally is fine but constant is annoying) and limit laughter at the expense of others (as in the form of gossip).
- Empathize – Demonstrating empathy is paramount to friendships. Friends lean on friends, and if we are unable to connect with empathy, the relationship will falter. Our ability to empathize with others will go a long way in determining our ability to establish and maintain meaningful friendships.
There is no greater gift amongst people than friendships. True friendships are to be cherished. They are like a garden because they require planting, nurturing, the sunshine, rain, weeding, and overcoming the occasional hailstorm that passes through. Utilizing these twelve points will help ensure that your friendships are fulfilling and sustaining just like a well-tended garden.