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What Do We Need From Our Friends?

What Do We Need From Our Friends?

Thursday, June 7th, 2012


It’s the time of year again when we try and get creative with our gifts. We hear “Give the gift of good health” constantly and less rarely, “Give the gift of friendship”. Now you may wonder what this has to do with wellness coaching and why would I choose to write about relationships that are essentially personal, not professional. The thing is, the more I work in this arena, the more I realise how much we have to learn from the coaching model that will help us in our lives on a daily basis.

You see I often watch and hear conversations between people. Not because I’m a nosey parker but because I am interested in the rhythm of conversation and the sense of emotional connection between others. We shouldn’t have to work hard with our friends should we? But we do.

For some reason many of us think it is our duty to help our friends. Not in the support sense (although we’d say we are supporting them), but with this thing called advice. It is as if by nature of our relationship that we think we owe them the benefit of our opinion regarding decisions they have to make. And I question the value of this. There may be times when they are embarking on a path that we see as being clearly foolhardy, however, jumping in and telling them they are wrong, crazy or just plain stupid wouldn’t be the best course of action. Would it? Yet we send this message so very often. We may not use those words and conceal them with phrases like, “If I were you…. I”d… ” We might as well add, “Because I know best!” I have frequently heard people say, “I had to counsel “Jane” last night over her relationship issues. The tone of voice implies that they had to “put Jane straight” last night with their better judgment. You see where I am going?

What gives us the right to assume that we know best when it comes to our friends? How can we possibly know what is going on in their heads and hearts that makes us the expert on what they “should” do? I’m not suggesting for a minute that our support isn’t needed but I think we should deliver it wisely. Perhaps we could consider the following:

PROVIDE INFORMATION NOT ADVICE – my catch cry of the month. If you do have knowledge that may be useful to your friend, let them have it but make it information that they can choose to use however they wish.

ASK QUESTIONS TO INCREASE THEIR SELF AWARENESS – by that I don’t mean “Did you know that John is a bad choice of guy for you?”. Perhaps a gentler, “Have you considered whether John meets all of your needs in a relationship?”

BE SUPPORTIVE BUT DON’T THINK YOU HAVE TO PROVIDE THE ANSWER – your friend is quite capable of coming up with the answer even if they are saying, “I don’t know what to do!” Your best response would be, “Yes, but you’ll work it out for the best.”

BE THEIR BIGGEST FAN – your friend will love to hear that you have faith in their ability to work through their challenges. Let them hear where you think their strengths lie. Do this sincerely and that is a real gift of friendship.

BRAINSTORM – if you want to roll up your sleeves and help in a more collaborative way, help them work through all their options. Sure you can throw in a few of your own but make sure most come from your friend and yours present a few different choices.

BE A SOUNDING BOARD – Listen to their troubles and reflect what they are saying without interpreting, advising, educating, counselling, one-upping, shutting them down, interrogating or correcting. Try and let them know you have heard what they are feeling as much as the details.

Because ultimately people want to be self-determining. Being told what to do is disempowering and when we are close to them, it can be a form of emotional blackmail. At least when a paid professional tells us what to do and we don’t want to do that, we can walk away knowing that it won’t cost them any sleep. Not with our friends! Imagine if we were to be able to completely wipe the smug saying, “I told you so!” How liberating.

Many of you will relate to this as you read. I know what I need from my friends and I hope I can deliver the same back. But it takes self control and great empathy and restraint at times. But it makes sense doesn’t it? And our friends will love us more, not less and seek our company instead of avoiding our advice. And that’s a gift in itself.

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