In the last post, I offered the idea that when seeking out friendships, what most of us earnestly desire is not a large number of relationships, but rather deeper and closer friendships. Such relationships take time to build, but given the ease in which we can connect and network with people all around the world, it has been harder to focus our time and attention to build such relationships (some of us may feel like we’re surrounded by too many people – and this is true compared to pre-Internet days). In this post, I will clarify a few implications of the previous post and then move on to give a few suggestions as to how we can go about building deeper and more meaningful relationships.
When I suggested that we need to spend more time with people in order to get to know them, I also suggested that there are many factors which affect how much time we need to spend to build a close relationship. In saying this, not all relationships will work and build in the same way. We get along with people better than others (based on factors such as personality, beliefs and interests) and so spending more time with one person may not necessarily yield a closer relationship than when spending less time with another person. We all need to make a judgement as to which relationships we think will be fruitful, and if we think it will be worth the time, we should commit our time and energy into building that relationship (over others that may not seem as fruitful – think back to the opportunity cost that spending time with one friend means not spending time with another). Being more Christian focused (not to say that non-Christians cannot use this advice), we are told to love one another and so, sometimes the relationships we choose to grow aren’t always the one that will be most fruitful (for us at least); sometimes we just need to love the people around us for their sake and need, because Jesus commands us to love.
Now as we move onto the different ideas in which we can build relationships, let me suggest that the way I think relationships can best be built is through deep and meaningful conversations (as the title of these articles would have suggested). Deep and meaningful conversations are those that go beyond the “surface” (the “deep” aspect) characteristics and address and add value (the “meaningful” aspect) to the core of people, namely their values, beliefs and their “faith” (the things that lie in their heart). By no means am I saying that this is the only way to build good relationships; but given the shortness of time that we have, I think deep and meaningful conversations most effectively build close relationships.
To give a really succinct example, I reckon that the activity at school camps that most effectively bring friends closer together are the late night conversations that we have in our cabins. It is during these times that we bond with our friends by talking about issues or struggles we are facing (typically guy/girl problems at that age), and we learn a lot about how our friends think and feel, and also how they think and feel towards us. This observation carries over to year 12 – we had this transition from talking about silly things and playing handball in year 7 to sitting down and having more serious conversations in year 12. It’s more than just high schoolers becoming more mature as people, but also that friendships were becoming more mature and tighter – these deeper conversations naturally foster the closeness of friends.
Ever since high school, we do not have the luxury of set school hours and camps to provide a setting for these conversations. If we are to talk and socialize with our friends, we need to make the time for it. And if we desire to build close relationships with people, we need to be intentional in finding time to have deep and meaningful conversations. This will potentially mean directing our activities to be more conversation-based (ie not karaoke or movies); not to say that we can’t enjoy time with our friends by doing non-conversational activities, but the activities that will better build relationships are those that involve conversations.
Once we are intentional with our time in creating opportunities for conversation, we need to be intentional with our conversations in order for them to be deep and meaningful. Our intention should be to get to know the other person better and to understand who they are. We need to go beyond the “surface” characteristics of a person (eg: the things you would talk about if you were introducing yourself) and get to the “heart” (things you otherwise wouldn’t freely in public). We need to have these conversations if we want to find out more about a particular person, with the intention of really understanding who they are and the things they are going through (because we want to care for them as a friend).
Here are some challenges in making conversations intentional:
- It takes time to build up trust for people to share deep and personal matters with one another
- It takes time to get past formalities at the start of the conversation before getting to the deeper issues – that is, you don’t just start talking about deep matters straight away, we feel like we need to ease the conversation to that level
- It takes much more energy to keep the focus of conversations on an intentional level – it’s very easy to get side tracked and start talking about random things; deep matters require more thinking
- It’s hard to start a deep and meaningful conversation when you and your friend(s) are not used to it – this is a cultural issue whereby if you’re not used to it, it will feel awkward and you’ll feel reluctant to change the culture in your social group
Here are some tips on having deep and meaningful conversations with your friends:
- Build up trust and ease in the culture – You’re not expected to be best of friends with someone you know or have just met, and you’re definitely not expected to immediately start sharing the deepest darkest secrets of your life (nor should you expect the same of the other person). Trust takes time to build, and cultures take time to change – consistently put the time and effort in and your relationship will steadily build up
- Take small bites at D&M – Following on from the above point, slowly make conversations deeper and possibly longer. You can start off with conversations that aren’t too deep and not too personal (ie meaningful conversations). You may also opt not to chat about meaningful things for too long and then steadily make these conversations longer in the future when you and your friend(s) become more comfortable with it.
- Respect personal space – Some people have different expectations of how deep and personal a D&M should get. When the other person is not prepared to open themselves up as much as we are, we need to respect their need for space and not probe too far. D&Ms are mutual conversations
- Avoid idle chatter – That is, steer away from topics that are not “meaningful” (ie meaningless) – conversations that are not meaningful do not edify or encourage the people around you. But the top reason for why idle chatter is bad is that it stops the deep and meaningful conversations (getting side-tracked). The best course of action is to turn the conversation back onto something meaningful (and it can be done smoothly with practice); or if it doesn’t seem viable to speak up, just not partaking in that conversation will prevent adding fuel to the fire.
- Give positive affirmation for having D&Ms – If having D&Ms is a good thing, you should voice your gratitude to encourage the other person. Phrases such as “It’s good to think stuff like this” or “I’m glad we got to chat about this” sends the reinforcement that having D&Ms is a good thing, and as such is behaviour that should be encouraged. The more you positively affirm D&Ms, the easier it will be to have them in the future, and the easier it will be for the other person to open up.
Though deep and meaningful conversations may seem hard to conduct, there is certainly value in using them to build up relationships. If we all subconsciously steer towards them and see the benefits it has in bring us closer to our friends, it would do all of us good to consider carefully how we may integrate them in our lives and use them to build up our friendships with the people we want to get close to. In the next post, I’ll go into what a culture of D&Ms is like (particularly why it’s helpful for Christians – I know I haven’t addressed that aspect of D&Ms yet) as well as clarify anything I’ve left out from here. Stay tuned.