Because it will help you learn emotional intimacy, avoid social isolation, and deepen the relationships you already have.
Most people don’t have as many close friends as they would like; and many men feel like they don’t have any. According to the American Sociological Review, Social Isolation has become far more prevalent over the last 20 years. Emotional intimacy, like physical intimacy, is something all humans long for. We are social creatures who need to connect with other people to feel whole, but the last two decades has seen the lack of close friends in America dropping at a rapid rate. Research points to several ways, however, that men can improve the quality of their friendships.
Stop Being So Funny:
I love funny people, and I’m sure you do too. We all enjoy being around people who make us laugh. Sharing humor with friends is a good way to relax, and can also be an effective way to diffuse tense situations without violence. Clearly, comedy has a valuable role to play in relationships, but using it to diffuse a serious or tense moment that is non-threatening, is not your best option if you’re looking for closer friends, because it prevents you from developing the deeper connections you crave and need.
Almost no one begins a conversation by baring their soul right off the bat. Instead, they might start small with something that hints at a deeper concern. They might complain or ask a question. If you respond to their hints with humor, they might laugh. They might even change the subject, and feel grateful that you didn’t probe further. But conversations that stay on the surface will not fill deeper needs. Overusing humor can lead to missed connections.
If someone ever says, “I’m serious,” in a conversation with you, sit up and pay close attention. This phrase means you’ve already missed their hints once, but they care enough about you to give you another chance. Keep reading to find out how not to blow your second opportunity for connection.
Learn How to Listen Effectively:
If you’re uncomfortable with silence or difficult emotions, effective listening might not come naturally. But that’s okay; it’s a skill that can be learned at any age. Here are steps to hone your close listening skills:
- Stop Whatever You’re Doing and Make Eye Contact – This shows you are present and engaged. Be aware, though, that in some cases, the person you care about might be too ashamed or uncomfortable to make eye contact. Take your cues from them. If they would rather shoot hoops or do something else so they don’t have to look directly at you, follow suit.
- Ask Clarifying Questions – It’s probably both flattering and daunting when someone wants to talk to you about important matters, and you might feel pressure to give advice or solve their problems, but this is not the time to act smart. Making assumptions can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It’s far more effective to be somewhat childlike and ask questions, find out more about the situation, and try to understand this person better. This process often helps the other person sort through their feelings and options without any direct help from you.
- Summarize and Reflect – Research shows that simply naming an emotion for someone has a powerful, calming effect, helping them feel validated and understood. Once you have a handle on what someone is trying to tell you, it’s helpful to summarize what you’ve heard and tell them how you imagine they must be feeling. Using the word “must” works especially well here. “You must have felt so…” or “That must have made you feel…”
- Find the Truth – Everyone has a reason for feeling what they feel and doing what they do. Even if you believe someone is overreacting, there is always a kernel of truth you can find in what they say. The phrase “You’re right…” works well. It’s not useful, of course, to patronize them or lie, but when you actively find something you can relate and agree with, it goes a long way.
- Ask for More – Dr. Mark Goulston includes this last step in his book “Just Listen,” and in my experience, it’s a vital one. The heart of someone’s problem usually only reveals itself after you’ve proven yourself trustworthy. You can honor your friendships by refusing to cut the conversation off before that point. Even if you’re sure the conversation is at a satisfactory end, ask if there’s anything else on your friend’s mind. Often there will be. Continue doing this until you see your friend visibly relax or sigh and say, “No.” Then you’ll know you’ve done what you can as a friend.
Consciously Choose to be Humble:
Finally, everyone enjoys being admired. But admiration brings with it an inherent distance. When people have to look up to you, they can’t look directly at you. They can’t see you for who you are or get close to you when they’re intimidated.
Strengthening friendships requires taking a close look inside; how are you coming across? It’s important to be yourself, but it’s also important to be humble, and look for things to admire in others. You might be a genius, have lots of money, or be an amazing athlete; but none of these qualities are requirements for being a great friend, and there’s no need to highlight them. In healthy friendships, your most prized qualities (as well as your flaws) will come to the forefront eventually.
Nothing attracts good friends like being a good friend. When you show others compassion and humility, and engage in, rather than deflect, honest, emotional moments, you encourage others to do the same – you give them permission to be just as real. When you make others feel good about themselves, you will feel good about yourself, in turn, and cultivate more fulfilling relationships.