Being a good friend does not always come naturally. In fact, we all typically have to hit some hard learning curves before we come round to actually formulating good, lasting friendships. It is nice to think that the best friendships in life happen by accident and while it takes a good deal of providential circumstance to bring two people together, a lot of what makes friendship fantastic is the conscientious effort of the parties involved.
A few weeks ago I noticed that the conversations I have with my close friends are noticeably different from the conversations I have with my other friends and acquaintances. One thing that makes friendships wonderful is the reciprocal give-and-take. Friendship is not about making sure everything is fair and even, but it is about filling needs, giving uninhibitedly, and complimenting one another, even in the words we say to one another.
A friendship where one person is constantly giving and the other person is taking is not a friendship. It is a dependency or a ministry, but not a friendship. This is a distinction that is really helpful to make.
Not all people deserve the same expectations and some people need a lot more patience, compassion, and help.
Here are a few things I have noticed about my conversations with my best friends and the way we talk to one another.
1. Friends are polite and it is polite to talk about what interests your friend, not what interests you. It is so wearisome to be around someone who constantly talks about themselves and I have to confess that sometimes I have been that person.
If you want to be a good friend, then talk about what your friend is interested in, not what you are interested in. Take it a step further and actually be interested in what interests your friend. Don’t cut them off halfway when they are talking because you are bored. Don’t sigh exasperatedly because you grow tired of listening to them.
My best friends and I can talk about everything and anything with one another and I could never grow bored, because I am interested in them. Because I care about them, I do my best to care about the things they care about.
Maybe you do not know what your friends want to talk about. I have an easy solution for you. Ask them. Simply ask. As soon as you are finished talking about yourself, always finish by asking about them. Try and make your questions specific, you know, because you actually pay attention to what is going on in their lives. Finally, listen intently. Really listen. Be interested.
2. Friends value your opinion. Friends are interested in hearing about you because they sincerely want to know your opinion and will seriously take your thoughts into account.
My sister and I are constantly asking one another’s opinions on all kinds of subjects—relationships, fashion, hair, food, life decisions, etc. I know sometimes it can get bothersome when I ask for the millionth time if an outfit looks good, boots or heels, hair up or down, oh, and while you’re at it, what should I do with my life? But I sincerely appreciate my sister's input. There are few things more validating than when someone you love wants your opinion, when they care about your input into their lives.
It is one thing to say, “I want to hear what you have to say” or “I want to know what you think.” It is another thing to seek out your friend’s opinion, even in the little things.
3. Apologize. The graceful and honest apology is pretty much obsolete in our society, but it is so necessary for every good friendship. And once again, I have been guilty of tactless apologies or no apologies at all over and over again. But a sincere apology goes a long way, especially when you follow through with your actions.
Remember that “saying sorry” is not necessarily an apology. I know a lot of people who say “sorry” as a way to simply explain their actions or words in the hope that I will be understanding and unoffended by them. But the reality is, when you do something wrong, are careless with your words, and hurt others, saying “sorry” does not amount to much and simply lowers you in my less-than-good-opinion of you.
Apologizing is admitting you are wrong. It is explicitly and humbly laying out everything you said that was wrong, everything you did that was wrong, and maybe anything that was not necessarily wrong but still careless and tactless. It is asking for forgiveness and recognizing that you don’t deserve it. And then it is pledging to do differently in the future, to the best of your ability.
4. Be a man or woman of your word. Don’t be careless with your words, promises, or apologies. If you want to be a good friend, don’t make promises you will not keep. Don’t apologize when you don’t intend to change. Be honest. Follow through with your actions. If you don’t want to do something, say you don’t want to do it. Don’t commit yourself to anything you will flake out of later. Make sure your word is a word that can be trusted.
Any and all of my friends can tell you that I fail on a regular basis to measure up to this standard, but it is something that I strive for, and a standard I am blessed to say so many of my friends exemplify.
In what ways have you been blessed in your friendships, especially through the conversations and words you share with you friends? I would love any further input you have!!