What hurts friendships, and what builds them up? Here’s some practical advice.
With friends like that, who needs enemies?” How many times have you heard a phrase like that describing a relationship in which colliding egos and clashing wills are destroying a friendship? Still, people seek out relationships because God created in us a need for friends and companionship. Loneliness and isolation gnaw at those without friends.
Good friendships are integral parts of our lives. They have been called a mirror that reflects our moods and characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. The foundation of a strong friendship is to be more concerned with others than with yourself. Out going concern-love-that’s what makes friends and helps you to keep them.
What Hurts Relationships
In order to see how to build strong friendships, let’s look at the forces that work to destroy relationships and then examine constructive building blocks. First, we must be wary of jealousy. It erodes outgoing concern more than anything else. It’s suffocating to a friendship because it goes hand in hand with lust. Instead of caring and sharing, lust gets and takes advantage of others, finally killing a relationship.
Another destructive factor is distrust. Distrust thwarts that closeness, openness and sharing so essential to friendship. Gossip and talebearing also quickly consume relationships. You’ve probably been with people who seem to constantly run others down-sometimes even those they call their friends. It’s an easy habit to get into, but it can lead to some devastating results.
It irks me to hear that someone is saying bad things about me behind my back. Yes, I know, when that happens you should ignore it. “Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” goes the old saying. But it’s hard to make people forget what others have said about you.
The Bible says that death and life in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Gossip, name calling and slander erode relationships as quickly as fire consumes wood.
Don’t overdo it
Perhaps you do avoid these destructive flaws, but still have trouble making or keeping friends. It could be that you’re trying too hard. If you are too accommodating (always agreeing with someone just to win his or her friendship, you are not being yourself, and the other person may feel you’re covering up your own feelings.
True, we should take the initiative in beginning friendships. A man who has friends must show himself friendly, the Bible says. You will not make new friends by sitting around waiting for someone to coax you out of your apathy or shyness. But it’s important not to demand, grovel or pout in order to be liked. You can’t rush into relationships, trying to make an impression.
Avoid trying to prove yourself and impress others. You’ll find maintaining a few good solid friendships is better than trying to impress and endless string of people. Steer clear of the too-few-friends, too may acquaintances syndrome. Flattery won’t help a relationship, either. Flattery is defined as “excessive praise given for ulterior motives.”
A compliment, on the other hand, is “an expression of appreciation offered with sincerity, with no thought of personal gain.” You can make a person feel good all day by saying a fitting word of honest praise or recognition, but flattery hurts because it is empty of true meaning.
Another vital ingredient for successful relationships is appreciation listening. This isn’t just polite silence. It’s an effective technique called listening, which is responding to others’ comments in a way that lets them know you think their ideas, feelings and experiences are important. If you pay attention during a conversation, you will constantly be given clues about what to say.
Tact is important. So many times inappropriate words that you later regret slip out. It only takes a split second to revise a statement or question through your billions of brain cells.
How You Say It
How can you use conversation to build a strong friendship? Good results can come from practicing the following seven steps:
- Don’t grab the conversation with “Yes, now take me, for instance…” You know how irritating it is to hear someone who has to have the final word on everything, from aardvarks to zymurgy (a branch of applied chemistry that deal with the fermentation process).
- Don’t let your gaze wander from the other person’s face, except momentarily. Give undivided attention.
- Affirm the feelings of the other with praise, encouragement, hope or just a nod. Sometimes, like when a friend is explaining a serious problem, it can be hard to find the right words. But a nod of encouragement goes a long way.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Don’t try to top the other person’s story or joke. Remember, also, that it can be embarrassing to tell a joke someone has already heard. If you’ve heard it, you don’t need to tell everyone.
- Try to feel what the other person feels by putting yourself in his or her place.
- Don’t argue!
The Bible verse on friendship I Corinthians 13 tells us to be positive about our friends by believing the best, not thinking evil and not rejoicing in iniquity (lawbreaking).
Friendships need constant nurturing. Both partners must have a sense that one friend is not leaning or depending too much on the other and a sense that both are gaining from the relationship. Disagreement is fine. If friends never have conflicting views (that doesn’t mean quarreling), it could be a sign of apathy. People with convictions will disagree. If two people share a deep bond of like-mindedness or affection, it will survive constructive argument.
By not expecting serenity every day, a friend avoids the dangers of boredom. A budding friendship takes time and commitment from both parties if it’s to become a fulfilling relationship. The hallmark of friendship is being more concerned with others than with yourself; remember, that’s what makes friends.
Fame and fortune are relatively minor evidences of success. You’ll be a truly successful person if you become a loving, giving individual, one who is constantly building friendships and trying to bring happiness to others.
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