Well, are you? How do you know if you’re a good friend, or if you’re a strain on the relationship economy? We have covered in other episodes, what to look for in a friendship but in the last week I have really been thinking; we don’t focus enough on what WE bring to it. If you want good friends, you really need to learn to BE a good friend.
This is important for more than a few reasons, but mainly, if you’re in dire need of a good healthy friendship, that is only going to happen if you’re bringing your half to the table. We spoke last week about what can happen when OTHER PEOPLE do the wrong thing and don’t have appropriate boundaries and start putting their crap in your canoe, but what if it isn’t the other people that’s the problem? How do you tell if it’s YOU that’s messing things up?
One of the first ways to tell if YOU are the problem is to notice the patterns. If you’re thinking about someone in particular ask yourself a few questions if you are beginning to have conflict:
- Is this a similar conflict to one I have had before?
- Does this person have similar conflicts with other people?
- Is this something that seems to happen with all my relationships?
- Does this person have healthy happy relationships with everyone BUT me?
Looking for the patterns, and the common denominators will help you to differentiate whether or not it’s the other person with the problem or poor behaviour or if they are simply responding to YOU. Often we can make the mistake of thinking that everyone else is in the wrong, but it’s really US that needs to create better boundaries… after all, the saying goes, ‘You teach people how to treat you’.
I think about people who are taught from an early age to have a voice. To be able to articulate what is going on for them, to be able to say the words “Hey, that’s not ok with me”, and how powerful those words are. It takes a lot of courage to be able to tell someone when they’re doing something that is hurtful but often that is exactly what the situation needs. If someone is telling YOU that (with their words, actions or otherwise) then it might be helpful to really listen and distinguish if this is something that you really do need to work on.
So here are my top tips for being a good friend.
- Listen. Listen to them. It’s one thing to be a talker - I’m a talker and I know that about myself so I deliberately force myself to shut up occasionally and let the other person talk. Ultimately I want my friends to know that I care about them and part of that is understanding where they are at and what is going on for them and I can’t do that when I’m talking the whole entire time. Plus, people get sick of you if you don’t let them talk back. This is a friend - not your counsellor.
- Don’t judge. You can have an opinion, and you can think that that person is doing the wrong thing but before you open your fat trap and tell them that, have a think about what is going on for them. Put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand their point. Genuinely care about WHY they are engaging in behaviour that might not be healthy for them, or others. When you can understand first, you might just be able to identify the core needs that are motivating the unhealthy behaviour and then you can make suggestions for what might help instead of shunning your friend (which by the way, never helps). I’ve been in both positions. I have had friends who didn’t agree with my choices and made their position quite clear; but it wasn’t done in a way that said “hey I love you - what is going on with this”. It was done in a way that said “you’re wrong and I don’t like it” so what happened there? I didn’t go back. In essence I ended the friendship because it made me feel so shit about myself. Now had they have tried the other approach, maybe there could have been some progress. At the very least, I would have been able to talk openly about what was going on for me at the time. But it was a lesson for me. I love my friends so much. If they’re doing something that’s stupid and probably going to end badly - well guess what? That doesn’t make me love them less. They’re adults and I have to let them make their own choices I can’t make them for them. I can be there when they need someone to talk to and I can support them as best I can but I will never turn my back just because I disagree with their choices. If their choices are putting crap in MY canoe - well that’s a different story. Creating space is important there. But you get what I’m saying.
- Ask for feedback. Watch for feedback you’re not asking for as well - look at them. Listen to them. Look at the body language… did you just offend them? Have you just hurt their feelings? Ask! “Did what I just say offend you? I’m really sorry.” Pay attention to how your behaviour affects them. I’m not saying that you should turn yourself into someone else, but if your behaviour is hurting another person, maybe there is some new choices to be made. Adjustments to your tone, or wording… Perhaps you need to learn to not tell that person things that hurt? Everyone is different and it’s about learning to tell what your friends needs are and balancing them with your own needs which are EQUALLY important.
- Don’t say hurtful things. Now of course, you cannot always tell what will hurt and what won’t hurt and I go back to number three for that - ask for feedback. But don’t repeat stuff that you’ve heard or that someone else has said. No one wants to hear awful stuff said behind their back. They just don’t. At the end of the day my philosophy has always been only to say positive things. If someone says something nasty about my friend; I follow that up on the spot. I say something like “that would be my friend you’re talking about and that hurts my feelings hearing you say things like that - if you have a genuine problem you should talk to her or him” or whatever the case may be. Another one I used YEARS ago when a friend used to bitch about our mutual friend I said “When you talk about her behind her back like that and you never tell her what you’re thinking, all it makes me do is wonder what you’re saying about me when I leave”. I’ve mentioned that story before but it’s so true. If someone doesn’t have the guts to tell other people what’s going on for them that is there problem. Don’t make it YOUR problem. Get that crap out of your canoe.
- Be of service. The whole point of having friends is having friends makes life easier and makes life better. Don’t just be a taker. Be of service. Find out what your friends needs are and try to meet them. Don’t be ridiculous though - it’s a give and take thing - there needs to be balance but there needs to be a reason that someone would bother being friends with you. Maybe you’re a good listener. Maybe you’re reliable, dependable, loyal, caring. Maybe you don’t judge them and are always on their side. Find out what they need the most from you and try to fill that need as best you can. An interesting and effective way to do that is investigate the 5 love languages; I’ll leave a link to that book on the website.
Relationships are important. Super important. Whether that is with friends, family members or members of your community. We really do need each other and while it’s important to choose good friends, you want to be picked by them too. Healthy people choose healthy friends, so you need to BE that in order to receive it too.
So that’s the summary of this week. I hope it’s helpful. If there’s anything that you need help with, or you have questions or ideas for the podcast, head to the website transformationalpersonalgrowth.com send us an email and while you’re there fill out our personal growth survey which helps YOU define the areas you need to grow, and helps US to serve those needs better.
I hope you have an amazing week, and that you take the opportunities to put some of these things in practice. Enjoy your friends and be the kind of friend that they can enjoy too and I will see you next episode! :)