One of the best tools for forming great friendships

Great friendships take more than just hanging out. And, often it's not what we say that makes the difference. It's what we don't say. It's about how we listen.

If you want to make great friends, do this.

Listen.

In this week’s episode, Howard and I discussed friendship. We shared our thoughts on and experiences with it. I told a story about how one of my best friends ghosted me. Howard talked about how moving to different cities as a kid affected how he approaches friendships. And we both went into how he and I became bosom buddies friends.

That’s all warm and fuzzy; but, here, on this post, I wanted to write about listening because I think it’s an overlooked but crucial skill for forming healthy and solid friendships.

It’s often talked about in the context of romantic relationships, but I think it’s just as important in friendships. I know it might sound weird to think about gazing into your friend’s eyes as they pour out their heart to you, especially with guys. But, I find that it does work. Sure, there are times when you just want to watch the game in silence and grunt a couple of times as you pass around a bag of Doritos (or two). However, I’ve found that some of my closest friends are very good listeners and ask great questions to draw me out.

Listening, I believe, is one of the most powerful acts you can do to foster friendships. To stay quiet and open your ears to another person often speaks louder than words.

No, it’s not the silver bullet in making life long friends. There’s a lot more that goes into friendships than just listening, for sure. But, it’s not a small feat, and it certainly makes a huge difference.

You see, listening says you’re present. You’re making the other person the priority. They’re important. And when you make people feel that way, it’s hard not to feel connected with the person who gives you that feeling. Being listened to makes others feel understood. And isn’t that what most of us want. We don’t need to be agreed with all of the time. But we do want to feel like others know where we’re coming from.

And feeling understood is not the same as being listened to. The listening that I’m talking about should produce the former. Someone can process all of your words but fail to exude the sensation that they care. That’s a critical difference.

I’m sure you know and understand what I’m talking about. You’ve experienced what it’s like to be listened to by a great listener.

You, like me, love it when someone does that for you. You can sense the difference when someone is not just there with you; but they are there for you. They are taking in all of your words and processing them not just to get information, but to gather it for your benefit.

And that feels good. That’s caring. That’s friendship. That garners trust and deepens the relationship.

Now, just because you listen to someone doesn’t mean you need to be that person’s friend. But listening is the fertile soil on which friendships can blossom with virtually anyone.

And the best news is that this type of listening is a skill. That means it can be practiced.

It requires you to focus on the person and what they are saying. Instead of spending energy trying to reply or refute and share your opinions, etc., spend all of your brainpower drinking in every syllable they have to utter and respond with a thirst for wanting to know more.

In midlife, we’ve got a lot going on. We’re in the midst of a career. Many of us have families. Marriages can feel like minefields. Then, there’s a pandemic, and now an election that won’t end. That’s not even mentioning the supercomputers we keep in our pockets and take out every minute to check for one reason or another. We’re all super distracted. And that makes listening hard. But it’s not impossible.

It’s doable.

And I promise that if you can declutter your mind and be there for a person, it will revolutionize your relationships, especially your friendships.

And, who knows, you might make a new lifelong friend.

Midlife is what we make it,
John

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