Friendships are fundamental to a stable, happy life. But how do you build good friendships? I think there are a lot of different things that are involved. It's complicated, of course, but there are some simple things you can do right away to help improve the relationships you already have. And then, once you've mastered those few little things that you can do, you can move on to bigger and better and more complicated things, perhaps.
Fundamentally, friendships are built on caring for one another. And one of the best ways you can show other people you care about them is to shut up and listen to them when they talk. Most humans seem to have this desire. This desire can be seen in the three goals:
I want to share my voice.
I want to share my story.
I want to share my feelings.
We all understand these things. But it's not just wanting to be heard. Everyone around you wants to be heard. If you are the one to sit, and listen, and smile, and pay attention, and grasp, and work at understanding what the other person is trying to say, well, you become a fundamental person in the life of that person; you become very important.
By nature, humans are self-oriented. In a sense, we're all selfish. But that's the way the brain works. The brain has one responsibility: make sure you stay alive and feeling okay. It works at that purpose constantly. It has all kinds of ways of helping the body to survive. We have the ability to control those desires within us in lieu of caring enough for another person to put aside our own desires in order to be there for others.
This human ability is called empathy. Empathizing with others is not just simply feeling what they're feeling. That’s called “sympathy.” Empathy is understanding the feelings of the other and then identifying with them. And the only way you can really understand their feelings is to listen to them as they talk. This means paying attention. And it means that you are not thinking of what you’re going to say next. This moment is not about you. It’s all about the other person and what they need in their life at that moment.
Allow me to give you a few little hints on how to listen to other people.
Number one: focus on the person’s message
You must carefully hear the words, then you need to deconstruct the meaning of those words. You need to ask, “What's under the words?” If you have ever been around teenagers recently, then you probably understand that they never say what they mean. They tend to say what they think you want them to say. Listen to the words and the unspoken words you suspect are there.
The problem with most humans is we grow up doing the same thing. We rarely tell people what we mean. We use all kinds of words to decorate and/or talk around what is in our heads. A perfect example of this would be the presidential debates held every four years. Two people on the stage in front of cameras saying a lot of words but never really getting down to say exactly what they mean.
The second: remember to pay attention to the person’s words
Words mean things, and we use words to try to express what is in our head. That's not always possible; but we work at it. Listen to what people say, not what you think they say. We have a problem with that one, don't we? Recognize the differences between you and the other person. Other people don't have the same thoughts and thought processes. They don't all have the same experiences. They don't all use the same terminology. And we all don't all use the same definitions of words.
What is the message you're trying to get across to the people in your life? That's what they want from you. You want to listen for what the person is thinking even though you know that they're not going to actually say what they're thinking. As you work on listening, as you work on getting to know another person well, eventually, you may be able to piece together their words in such a way that you “get it!” Then recognize the person's heart. Where are they coming from deep inside?
Finally, consider the person’s worldview
Every person is completely different. We all have our personal biases. If you set aside those and just listen, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn. Criss Jami in his book - Killosophy - wrote, “It's not hard to understand a person, but it's only hard to listen without bias.” To me, that statement is the whole point I’m trying to say here. You earn the right to be heard by first listening to what other people are saying to you. And then you can build on those early steps in the relationship. Never hurry your relationships. Take your time.
Remember what O. Henry said, "No friendship is an accident." You do it. You work at it.
So do you need a friend? Pick out someone in your life, and ask them to share their story. You, and she or he will never be the same after that.