Being a good friend can be deceivingly complicated.
Being a good friend can be tough in our busy lives with limited time for connection. We can end up focusing on what we need from our friends and not how we can be a good friend ourselves.
We can play an integral part in our friends’ journeys to make their lives better. We can support our friends to self-reflect and grow.
All we need to do is – shut up and listen.
Sounds easy, right? But in fact – it isn’t straightforward.
When our friends need to work through their issues with us. There are unconscious things we do that aren’t going to win us any Friend of the Year awards.
So, if you want to focus on being a good friend (or hoping to get a nomination for a Friend of the Year award). Here are a few tips to help you on your way.
Being a good friend – tips for when you need to shut up and listen
Being a good friend – Tip #1: Offer the benefits of venting
Allowing our friends the opportunity to vent – supports them to unpack and process their issues. Venting our issues is not only good for our brain but for our body too. Venting allows us to feel better about our problems but can also relieve harmful stress and anxiety from the body.
Being a good friend – Tip #2: Offer a safe space
When I trained to be an executive coach, one of the most interesting things that I learnt was the importance of offering silence when someone is discussing a problem. For me this a) was super hard (to shut up and not interrupt with my “valuable” input) and b) amazing to see how much power there is in silence. If you offer a silent safe space, your friends can find their own answers and relief, through their own exploration of the problem.
Being a good friend – Tip #3: Beat your unconscious bias
Now, listening to our nearest and dearest is not actually easy. Research has shown that the closer people are to us – the less carefully we listen to them (it’s called closeness-communication bias). This is because unconsciously we think that we already know what they are going to say. This phenomenon can mean for our closest friends (and partners) – strangers can be better listeners for their problems. (And your friends may prefer to vent to strangers rather than you too).
Being a good friend – Tip #4: Don’t troubleshoot
Many of us have heard the stereotype that a male in the relationship will troubleshoot when the female just wants to be heard and have their feelings validated. We can be the same with our friends. We kick into troubleshooting mode because we want to help our friends. They may ask you for help. But – if they don’t – just shut up and listen (& offer the chance to vent).
Being a good friend – Tip #5: Don’t wallow together
If your friend shares a relatable story when venting to you. Do you share yours too? This can result in you both wallowing in negative emotions. Then, both of you can leave the conversation feeling worse than when you started. When helping a friend vent, the more you can keep your negative emotions out of it, the easier it will be for them to process their issues (and not complicate them with yours).
Being a good friend – Tip #6: Don’t look bored
One important tip if you want to be a supportive friend – is to make sure you are utilising your active listening skills. If we sit quietly (trying our hardest not to interrupt with our stories, opinions and helpful tips) our friend might think we are not listening (or bored). So make sure you brush up on Active Listening 101 if you need to.
Being a good friend – Tip #7: In return – don’t be boring
Being a good friend goes both ways. As much as shutting up and listening will make you a good friend. Don’t forget – not venting all the time also makes you a good friend. We all need the chance to unpack our problems. But no one wants a friend that drags them down with a constant barrage of negative feelings.
So – good luck if you want to master the art of being a good friend.
(And – remember to mention me when you are receiving your Friend of the Year award.)
[Article First Published: March 6, 2021.]