4 Key Elements of Friendships That Inspire
“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself”- Jim Morrison
We can all agree that there is a huge difference in the quality of the different kinds of friendships we have had throughout the course of our lives. Some people we designate as “work friends”, others as “acquaintances”, and yet others as our “best friends”.
Generally, we reserve the title of “best friend” for people we have known for years, perhaps even since childhood. However, time is actually not a relevant factor went it comes to cultivating inspiring friendships. Therefore, it is possible to have more enriching friendships, no matter what the current context or label is.
Why is this important?
Not only does friendship fulfill our need for social connection, but friendship researchers have found a slew of tangible benefits that result from cultivating close-knit friendships such as improved mental and physical health. In fact, they may even increase our life expectancy. (1)
This article will take a look at how inspired friendships can become not only possible, but probable.
Here are four elements inherent in friendships that inspire us.
Now I am not saying we should always drop whatever we are doing every time a push notification from our friends comes in. That would be largely unsustainable (although sometimes this is exactly what sets apart the mundane friendships from great, lifelong connections).
What I am saying, is that maintaining a sense of connection and consistency is essential in creating and maintaining trust. Trust is at the heart of all the relationships in our lives that inspire us (2).
Honestly, the simple action of actually following through on what we said we would do is a core component of fostering friendships that uplift.
Think back to you own experience. Did you ever have that one friend from college who always said they would go out with you, only to back out at the last minute after you had already gotten ready? It is a silly example, but did that relationships invoke inspiration or trust?
Too often the excuses of “I'm too busy” or “I'm not feeling well” get in the way of what may otherwise be a wonderful friendship. Of course, there are times when we do have to take care of ourselves and attend to our health or workload, but moving away from using these as default excuses every time we just don't feel like going out after making plans with another person is crucial.
Get honest with yourself. Is this a pattern in your friendships?
I have seen many great friendships erode over time because one person feels he or she is always initiating contact and making the effort to meet up. This one-sided relationship is not sustainable and certainly does not provide a platform for inspired thoughts and actions.
With that, the element of reliability is more than just a set of actions you do or don't do within a friendship. Reliability is the value of recognizing no human being is perfect, that each of us will go through trying times, and that the people who show up for us, even when it is not convenient for them, are the ones that inspire us.
“If you have one true friend, it is more than your share”- Thomas Fuller
Being dependable, though common sense, is not a common attribute in all friendships. Yet, it is the foundation from which a sense of emotional safety is fostered and from which the seeds of inspiration can grow.
Instead of focusing on what people should be doing for you, reflect on how you can be a more reliable friend.
What systems could you put in place to counter the excuse of “I'm too busy”?
(For instance, if a good friend lives across the country, can you pencil in a regular time in your schedule to talk regularly? Or why not reach out to an old friend you've lost touch with today and schedule a time to catch up with them?)
2. Deep Listening / Nonjudgmental Presence
With that, one of the reasons why people shut down and withdraw from others is because they are experiencing a difficult time emotionally. Maybe there is something they feel embarrassed about. Maybe there is something going on in their lives that they fear they will be judged for.
Believe it or not, one of the most common actions that blocks the possibility of a friendship that inspires is the continual giving of advice.
This flies in the face of our cultural conditioning.
But let's explore this idea for a moment…
I admit it. I am guilty. I have been binge watching the TV show Friends on Netflix and…have been so incredibly struck by how often the characters try to control one another's decisions!
For example, the character Phoebe is so excited about moving in with her first long-term boyfriend. Then, another character starts prompting her to think about where the relationship is going. This creates a huge conflict between Phoebe and her boyfriend. They end up breaking up, which is very painful for Phoebe.
This happens consistently over the ten seasons. One character wants to do something and the others convince him or her to do otherwise.
And this doesn't just happen on TV, it happens all the time in real life too!
For example, I know two gals who had become good friends while studying abroad in Spain. They became inseparable almost instantly. One, let's call her Jess, had fallen in love with a man who moved to another country. Her new friend Sarah became outraged. “How could you even consider following this man to another country? He is no good for you. This is crazy and irresponsible!”
Sarah then began talking to all of their mutual friends about how stupid…how bad of an idea it was for Jess to want to be in a relationship with this person.
Needless to say, those two girls are no longer in touch with each other.
Furthermore, in my professional work as a coach and counselor, many people cite that the most unhelpful thing they experienced when going through periods of transition like a divorce or when making a big life choice…was advice!
Of course the advice is well-intentioned. We care about our loved ones and want to see them happy and successful. However, our current cultural narrative greatly downplays the inner wisdom and inspiration available to each person. We forget the fact that, at the end of the day, our friend's life is not ours to live.
Now, I often hear people say, “but sometimes I do want advice. I do want to be told what I should do”. Here are two things I see about that:
#1. That person actually does know what he or she wants to do. He or is just looking for permission to do it.
or #2. The person is genuinely confused about what to do.
Here is the greatest, most overlooked truth: all human beings do actually have the tools to decipher for themselves what is best for them, even if it isn't clear right away (3).
With that, we can all make a much bigger impact on our friends when we cultivate the opposite of giving advice: deep listening.
Don't discount the simplicity of this exercise. It can catapult your friendships to a new level.
Here are the basic tenants of this listening exercise:
1. Designate a listener and a speaker. The listener's job is to just listen. Seriously, no giving advice. No relating what the person is saying to a similar situation in your own life. Your job is just to listen.
2. Set a time for each person to talk. Usually between 5-15 minutes per person is a great starting place, however you can go as long as you want.
3. Ask a question like “What do you want to think about?”. It really can be any question, but an open-ended questions can be very beneficial in uncovering inner knowing.
4. Listener, just listen. Speaker feel free to talk about whatever comes to mind. If there are periods of silence (which there most likely will be) that is ok. Allow the silence. Listener do not talk or feel you need to “help” the conversation along.
5. Reflect. Take a few minutes each to share what the experience was like to just be listened to without being interrupted or given advice. Listener, comment on what the experience was like for you to just listen. What did you notice? The role of the listener is not to summarize what the person said, but rather reflect on what your own internal process was. What did you become aware of?
6. Switch roles and repeat.
That listening exercise brings to light in real-time, the essence behind the intention of cultivating friendships that inspire: that each one of us has access to that divine, creative place within us that breathes new life into our experience. Our role as a friend then, is to nurture that which already exists in ourselves…and in friends.
When we show up confidently in our own sense of mental well-being, it has a funny way of rubbing off on others. It has to the power to be contagious.
(And I am not talking about when we show up with an inauthentic positive attitude and fake smile. I am talking about when we are genuinely in touch with our inner mental health at that moment).
When we discover for ourselves that sweet spot of mental health and resilience, we naturally become more of a joy to be around. We are more light-hearted. We have a sense of humor about ourselves and our imperfections, so that even when we are in a bad mood, we don't take it quite as seriously.
And from a practical level…when we take this optimistic viewpoint it allows us to be more open-minded and enhances our problem-solving ability (4).
Therefore, optimism has a major, inspiring impact in our friends lives because we are demonstrating that every person has the potential for inspired thoughts to breakthrough and spark brilliance in his or her life.
Seeing this potential in ourselves and our friends allows for an ease and grace to take precedence. And the more we see this system at work, the more it makes sense to live from this frame of reference more of the time.
At the end of the day, all of these elements play a role in the fourth element: service.
Just because advice giving isn't always the best way to invoke inspiration, there are times when sharing your authentic truth is necessary. It has to do with seeing what is needed and showing up from that place.
Inspirational relationships happen when two people move from wanting to “help” or “fix” one another to two people who are truly serving one another.
Though they sound similar, these are two totally different things!
Helping comes from the assumption that we know what is best for the other person and taking action from that place. Serving stems from a place of not knowing, asking questions, and following inspired thoughts into action.
Serving is about providing a space to give what is actually needed, rather than giving what we think is needed.
When we become better care-takers for one another, when we can admit we all have flaws, but also, that every single person on this planet has access to their own inner wisdom via insight…we have a tremendous platform from which to uplift one another.
Have fun with this exploration
“Genuine human friendship is on the basis of human affection, irrespective of your position. Therefore, the more you show concern about the welfare and rights of others, the more you are a genuine friend. The more you remain open and sincere, then ultimately more benefits will come to you. If you forget or do not bother about others, then eventually you will lose your own benefit.”- Dalai Lama
Reflect on the power that your own inspired thoughts have had on your own life versus when you blindly followed the advice of another person. Did you notice a difference in how you felt? Was there a difference in the outcome?
Could you create an intention for more inspired friendships?
(Read this next: The Power of Inspired Action)