What is the key to maintaining quality relationships, especially in today’s hurried world? Karol Ladd, bestselling author of The Power of a Positive Woman, believes it goes back to something our grandmothers told us: “If you want to have friends, you must show yourself friendly.”
After years of speaking to women’s groups on the topic of friendship, I have discovered a pattern of characteristics that women typically appreciate in other people. Here are the top seven relationship ingredients that have surfaced over the years. I encourage you to consider these qualities in light of your current friendships and, if you are married, in light of your relationship with your spouse. (They’re great building blocks for marriage.) These are qualities to internalize in your own life in order to become a better friend. You can also use them as a measure to consider (not judge) potential friendships in the future.
1. Take a genuine interest in others.
Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” As we listen to others and show an interest in what is important to them, we begin to truly love and understand them. Every person has an invisible sign around his or her neck that reads, “I want to feel important.” Everyone has something to offer this world. We need to search for it, find it, and bring it to the surface.
I’ve found that scheduling an “Others Hour” is a good way to make time to be attentive to others. What is an Others Hour? It’s a sixty minute period we reserve on our schedules each week in order to focus solely on our friends and their needs. I know for me, if something is not on the calendar, it typically doesn’t happen. An Others Hour is a time when we can write a note or make a call or deliver a gift or do a favor. It’s a time when we can pray for a certain friend in need. Try it. Who knows? You may find your Others Hour multiplies throughout the week!
2. Be a giver, not a taker
Ask not what your friends can give to you but rather what you can give to your friends. (Sound familiar? Sorry, John, for reworking your quote.) What can we give to others? How about a smile, a hug, a kind word, a listening ear, help with an errand, a prayer, an encouraging note, a meal? We can come up with many things to give others if we are willing to be attentive to their needs. (Hint, hint: To know someone’s needs, you must take a genuine interest in the person first.) Giving may take time. It may take us out of our way. But giving and self-sacrifice are part of the definition of love. I like this little poem by John Oxenham:
Art thou lonely, O my brother?
Share thy little with another.
Stretch a hand to one unfriended,
And thy loneliness is ended.
3. Be loyal.
Loyalty is a rare commodity in today’s world, but it’s an absolute requirement in true and abiding friendships. When we are loyal to one friend, we prove ourselves worthy of many.
One way we show our loyalty is through our words — or lack thereof. In fact, a key to being loyal is keeping a tight rein on our tongues. If we’re loyal, we won’t tear a friend down behind her back or share her personal story without her permission. It’s easy to gossip or pass judgment; it’s much harder to keep silent. I like what Marsh Sinetar said: “When you find yourself judging someone, silently say to yourself, ‘They are doing the best they can right now.’ Then mentally forgive yourself for judging.” As positive women, we need to make sure our tongues are used for good and not evil. We should be builders with our words, not demolishers.
Jealousy, envy, and a range of other negative emotions can keep us from being loyal. But true loyalty overcomes all of them. I think of the beautiful Old Testament story about the friendship between Jonathan and David. Jonathan had reason to be jealous of his friend, David. Jonathan was King Saul’s son and in line to succeed his father to the throne, but God anointed David to be the next king instead. At the same time, David easily could have been angry with Jonathan. Jonathan’s father, the king, chased David out of the country and tried to kill him. Yet these two men pledged their loyalty in friendship and never wavered from it. Eventually Jonathan saved David’s life, and David continued to show his loyalty to his friend by watching out for Jonathan’s son.
Jealousy, envy, bitterness, and anger are all sisters in sin and killers of loyalty in relationships. But if we continually take these emotions to God and ask for his help in overcoming them, we can remain loyal to our friends through the thick and thin of life.
4. Be a positive person.
The most consistent comment I hear about what people want in friendships is this: “I want a friend I can laugh with.” We all want friends we can enjoy! People who consistently bring us down with their problems and complaints are generally not the ones we want to pal around with for any length of time. O f course, sometimes a friend will go through a difficult time, and we need to be ready and willing to hold a hand and provide a listening ear. But a friend in need is different than a habitual whiner. We want our friendships to be positive and uplifting — and that means we must be positive, uplifting friends ourselves.
It has been said that there are two kinds of people: those who brighten the room when they enter, and those who brighten the room when they leave. Let’s make sure we’re brightening our friendships with our presence. Positive women demonstrate an attitude and a spirit that sees God at work in all of life and encourages others to see him too. They are generous with praise, with smiles, and with love, remembering what Francis Bacon said: “Friendship doubles joys and halves griefs.”
5. Appreciate the differences in others.
Variety is the spice of life. I’m so glad that when I walk into an ice cream store, vanilla isn’t the only option! I’m glad, too, that God created people with a variety of personalities, talents, and interests. Each one of us is a unique creation. Mixed together we blend to form the body of Christ.
So why is it that, instead of appreciating our differences, we tend to despise them or become jealous of them? Apparently this was as much a challenge in the early church as it is today. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:18-25:
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor… But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
Along with a variety of personalities comes a variety of faults. I am the creative type and love to spend hours writing and brainstorming, but I am a little scatterbrained when it comes to details and being on time. Of course I need to work on my faults, but I also need understanding friends who will bear with me (see Colossians 3:13). At the same time, I need to overlook my friends’ faults in other areas. An old Turkish proverb states, “Whoever seeks a friend without a fault remains without one.” The truth is, we will never find a perfect friend here on this earth (except Jesus). So let’s appreciate our differences, both the good and the bad.
6. Build on common interests.
What is it that brings friends together in the first place? There is usually something that draws us to others — a common hobby, a sport, a Bible study, a volunteer project, a children’s activity. My friend Karen and I got to know each other as our daughters grew to be friends at school. Our friendship developed as we took our kids to activities together and talked and planned over the phone. We go to the same church, which gives us another common bond. Karen and her husband, Dick, organize many of the mission opportunities at the church, so Curt and I join them occasionally to help feed the homeless. Since our husbands enjoy hunting and golfing together, we build on their common interests as well.
In our busy society, it can be difficult to create times to get together with people. But if we take advantage of the common activities and interests we have with others, we can fit the time for friendship into our schedules. If you and a friend both like to exercise, work out together. If you both like to read, go to the bookstore together to pick out your next selection, grab some coffee, and talk about the last book you read. If your kids are your common interest, consider getting together on a regular basis to pray for them. The point is to allow your common interests to draw you together.
Married couples need to practice this, too. Many couples tend to get focused on (and frustrated with) their differences while overlooking the common interests that brought them together in the first place. When that happens they need to go back to basics and begin to build again on their common interests, overlooking each other’s faults and appreciating the different qualities they bring into the marriage. Marriages seem to be made in heaven when they start, but they most assuredly need to be maintained and continually tended here on earth. Mignon McLaughlin puts it this way, “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”
7. Be open, honest, and real.
The word hypocrite originally described actors on a stage who covered their faces with masks to conceal their real identities. Today the word describes people who pretend to be something they’re not. True friendship cannot be built on false images. We must be true to ourselves. We may think we have to present a faultless picture of ourselves to the rest of the world, but why? No one wants to be friends with someone who is perfect! We simply need to be our best selves and allow people to know the real us.
Of course, being open and honest doesn’t mean spilling our guts to everyone. As we already know, loyalty is a rare commodity; when we find it, we know we have a friend we can trust — someone with whom we can share openly about our deepest issues and feelings. George Washington offered some wise words about friendship when he said, “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”