The Other 3 Most Powerful Words
One of the highlights of being on book tour (for Frientimacy: How to Deepen Your Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness) is meeting so many amazing women across the country who resonate with the need for healthier friendships. I've learned so much from all of you-- from your questions, from your stories, and from your own powerful work in this world. Your encouragement, resonance, and conversation feed me. One of those amazing women I met is Tricia Andor (her new blog), a big-hearted and fun therapist. While I was thrilled by her passion for learning more about friendship, moved by her affirmation of my work, wowed that she attended 3 of my 4 book events in Denver (driving nearly an hour each way, every time!) and touched that she brought me a goody bag that included snacks for the road... (great illustrations of how we can build friendships with positivity!) what I really wanted to share with everyone was a comment she offered during the Q&A time at the end of one of my presentations.
Her words reminded me how simple and easy it can be for all of us to practice opening up conversations with our friends where we might feel some tension, distance, or frustration.
The "Other" 3 Most Powerful Words
Certainly we know that saying "I love you" can be three of the most healing and transformational words on the planet; but what do you say when you're actually feeling anything but loving?
During every Q&A we all hear stories of women who are feeling disappointment with their friends: we wonder what to do when we learn the 3 actions that build friendships but are then dubious that our friends will contribute as much as we will, we feel frustrated that long-time friendships aren't feeling meaningful anymore, and we feel angst with our friends whose annoying habits have put distance between us.
As I highlight in my book that maturity and spiritual growth are connected to our willingness to lean in to our friendships with honesty--as opposed to our default mode of simply tolerating something for as long as possible and then just giving up--our palms can start to sweat at the thought of actually confronting our friends. When it comes to our romantic relationships-- we are far more practiced at having the conversations where we talk about our relationship: whether it's meeting our needs, whether it feels fair, or what we feel needs to change. But when it comes to our friendships we all too often withdraw.
And that's where Tricia's three magic words can help us! :)
She offered up an easy and beautiful way that has helped many of her clients over the years as they engage in repairing conversations: "I've noticed that..."
- "I've noticed that we don't talk with each other as much as we used to..."
- "I've noticed that when we get together I sometimes leave feeling like I didn't get a chance to share with you what is going on in my life..."
- I've noticed that when we make plans I feel worried about whether it's really going to happen since you've had to cancel several times..."
- I've noticed that I tend to be the one reaching out trying to get our time scheduled..."
"I've noticed that..." is:
- Casual sounding (as opposed to "I need to talk with you about something that's bothering me.");
- Uses non-blaming language (as opposed to you "You never...");
- and Focuses on an observation (as opposed to assigning a motive or starting with a tough feeling)
Starting a conversation that shares an observation is an awesome way to open up a dialog with a friend. Here are a couple other tips, I'd offer:
- Get to a question as quickly as possible. The goal here isn't to dump on her, give lots of examples, or share all your feelings, but rather it's to start a conversation. Therefore, in order for it to be a conversation, we need to invite their sharing early. After sharing the observation, consider asking a question like, "Have you felt that, too?" or "Have you noticed that?" or "Do you have any ideas of how we can improve this?"
- Avoid using global language such as always or never. Even if it feels like always or never, if this is one of our first times approaching this subject, it invokes less defensiveness to underplay it a bit and leave some grace in the air by saying, "Sometimes" or "a couple of times."
- Assume the best--give them grace. As we all practice having honest conversations, I find it feels best to speak as though we assume the best of the other. We may feel like it's the last straw, but if we haven't broached the subject before then we have to realize this is the beginning of the repair work and treat it gently and with hope. After making an observation, statements like "I'm sure that's not what you intended" or "I know you've been so busy" helps us extend an olive branch and increases the chances of them feeling safe enough to be vulnerable. Our friends need to feel our love if they are going to own their failures or share their own hurts with us.
So those three magic words could lead to something like:
"I've noticed that we don't get together as much as we used to.... I know we're both so busy and you've been working so hard on such-and-such, so I don't want to put any pressure on you or your schedule, but I do miss you! Do you feel like there's a way to connect more frequently that would work for you?"
"I've noticed the last couple of times that it feels like there might be some tension between us. I don't know if I did something to frustrate you or if I'm just imagining things, but I'd love to talk about it if anything is in between us. Do you feel like anything has changed?"
It's not our responsibility to have it all figured out or solved, not worth the time and energy of writing out some long script with all the grievances and feelings, and not our responsibility to guess how they are feeling. All we are being invited to do in our relationships as we practice speaking up is to lean in a bit more and at least get the conversation started.
May many meaningful and restorative conversations occur in all our lives,
p.s. I have lots of other scripts, tips, and ideas for how to open and facilitate awkward, but courageous conversations in my book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.