Friendship is, plainly and simply, what life should be all about. It’s the basis of compassionate love, the way we find kinship with strangers, the oldest and most reliable form of therapeutic activity. But we’ve gotten pretty comfortable isolating ourselves and inflating our numbers of false friends with technology. This month we’re getting back to making friends and communicating the old fashioned way.
How did people meet one another before we became so prone to isolation? They went out. They found hobbies. They discovered friends in the workplace. This requires taking the risk of reaching out, a risk with virtually zero negative side-effects. Instead of “networking” and “adding friends” try to practice mindful social interactions and stay far away from the dark side of the internet comment section.
Now, I feel fairly confident that many readers of the Self Love Club don't regularly angrily troll social media, but I know that, from time-to-time (especially in these times), it’s possible to get carried away with the crowd. When we feel a sense of injustice about something in the world, it’s even easier to lash out with anger. The combination of a groundswell of feeling and anonymity can sometimes be a little intoxicating. People often end up saying things online that they wouldn’t dream of saying to someone’s face.
As we drift into the middle of February we might be finding it difficult to communicate — especially through technology. So what can we do to protect and improve our relationships to minimize any adverse effect on our mood?
For starters when it comes to online interactions try to communicate kindly. Technology gives us the power to extend our interactions further than we ever could before, perhaps further than ever in human history. We make the choice every time we log in whether to embrace the positive side of that.
In our personal relationships there’s a lot we can learn. Our partners don’t (I hope) exist to be difficult. Replace blame with the benefit of the doubt. Make a conscious choice to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, let go of quick judgments, and try not to take things personally.
Now, when it comes to new friends or neighbours does the thought of small talk make your palms sweat and voice squeak? Nope? Cool, just me then. Either way contrary to conventional advice to “keep it light,” studies show that people prefer having deeper and more meaningful discussions. Moreover, engaging in substantive conversations is linked with greater happiness and well-being. So to start out with, get curious. Ask about topics that will help you find common ground. Build on what the other person says. Avoid firing out checklists and predictable questions like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” Ask open-ended questions that require more than a one-word reply. This works with kids too—for example, instead of saying, “How was your day?,” try, “Did anything surprise you today?”
And finally in all relationships, friendships, family and strangers here are three general rules to live by:
- Talk less, and listen more (got this hot tip from my 97-year-old Auntie Mabel)
- Cue in to your body language — Smile, uncross your arms, pay attention.
- Lose the phone. There’s nothing that makes a person feel more unheard than you mindlessly scrolling while they’re talking to you.
Talking about stuff that matters is good for you and good for the person you are chatting with. Try to improve your communication with those you love — not only will these conversations boost your spirits, they will open your mind.