Good friendships can oil the gearbox, making big change easier, and ice the cake, adding extra delight to life. But there’s an art to growing and sustaining good friends. Here are my top tips on this:
- Be willing to experiment: trying a range of approaches with a variety of people increases your chances of success.
- Realise that there are many kinds of friendships. Be aware of the various kinds you would like, and try to sense early on what your potential friend wants. For example, the level of openness and emotional sharing may vary hugely. In many male friendships, all this is unspoken: remember Last of the Summer Wine.
- Imagine a new friendship as a spiral process: don’t plunge in, but let it deepen gradually. Listen for clues from your friend about the subjects they do and don’t want to talk about, and guide them on your preferences.
- Cultivate your listening skills: try to hear what your friend is saying, and respond to it. Don’t get preoccupied with your own nerves and needs. Listen for what’s not being said: many men struggle to express their feelings or ask for support, so listen for clues and make an offer, for example, “Would it help you to talk more about the divorce?”
- Co-counselling training can help with friendship skills, including negotiating contracts. This may sound formal, but it’s simply about getting clear expectations between you. Men often share a problem with a friend because they want practical advice, but sometimes they just need a sympathetic ear. Checking what your friend would like from you shows that you care about their needs.
- Find the courage to make the first move. In shifting from casual contact towards friendship, someone needs to take the initiative: Remember the other guy may be even more shy than you are.
For men, doing something together can be an easier start to a friendship than sitting and talking. It could be quite simple, like going to a film, or having a walk.
- Remember the question early in this Chapter about the Giver, Taker and Receiver roles: do you and your friend have a balance between these? If you’re stuck in one role, experiment with changing.
- As a friendship starts to build, if you want it to deepen, try talking openly with your friend about how it’s going and what you both want from it. This kind of frankness doesn’t come easy in our culture, but it can help both of you to get what you need, and to learn as you go along.
- Conflicts between male friends can be quite sudden and severe at any age. Often men lack the skill to express and hear difficult feelings, or to use the techniques of conflict resolution. Men may find it easier to dump the friendship than face the conflict. There are some good methods of conflict resolution, such as Non-Violent Communication, which are relevant for friends, groups or communities.
- As you change, the kind of friends you want will change too. If you want to move from friendship down to acquaintance, do it honestly: talk it through with your friend, hear their feelings, try to reach a point of completion and celebration for the friendship. This will cause less pain than just stopping.