Why is it surprising that we need people? “As iron sharpens iron, so one person can sharpen another.” (Proverbs 27:17) But it can be so hard to make friends.
I admit, before I was bullied terribly starting in fifth grade, I had lots of friends and trusted people. Since then, I don’t trust as easily. As a result, I find it much easier to accept others than to feel like anyone would ever accept me. However, I’m learning the importance of developing relationships and get a little better at it everyday.
Picking the Word of the Year
Each year I have a word of the year. Last year it was courage. And wow did I have to use that word.
This year the word is “fellowship.” Interestingly, I’d been praying over this for about a week and knew it would be something about relationships and possibly even friendship. And while I don’t usually make any kind of decision based on physical signs, as we kept watching this beautiful rainbow as we drove to church Sunday morning on New Year’s Eve.
And as we moved, of course, it moved. Until we parked in the church parking lot and the word “fellowship” just seemed like the lucky word at the end of the rainbow! (See the picture up above.)
And while the Greek word Koinonia that inspires this word fellowship deserves a separate conversation, I do think that we not only need friendship but fellowship with others in a common purpose or goal.
This is different from friendship in that you don’t have to be “best friends” with someone to agree to work together for a common cause like at a school or church or businesses.
So, today, let’s talk about some great ways to build relationships.
1 – Show Up
So often, people want things to fall into their laps. They want to have relationships but they don’t want to be near where friends could be made. It would be like wanting sun but never being willing to walk outside.
When you’re new to something you have to show up until you start making friends. Sometimes it can take a while. Many people at the new place already have friends. So, hopefully, there are open-minded people willing to make new ones. You’ll find them eventually. (If not, you’ll likely move on.)
2 – Be Friendly
Mom taught me that the best make-up I could wear is a smile. Some people are approachable. Others not so much. And while sometimes you can smile and smile and no one smiles back, I’ve found that gentle kindness is read by others.
Are you friendly? And remember, it is more than just your mouth. Smile with your eyes. I’ve found that the corner of the eyes is the real place where you can see a genuine smile. (A genuine smile is called the Duchenne smile.)
3 – Listen
Another trick Mom taught me is really from Dale Carnegie. If you listen to people intently, they’ll swear you’re a great conversationalist. A genuine interest in people and listening will open doors.
While traveling extensively for the last 12 years, I’ve found people around the world to be fascinating. I love to talk to people. I love hearing their stories. A student asked when we did the presentation on the recent Dubai trip if I’m lonely when I travel alone. My answer is that I’m never lonely – there are people everywhere.
And when you listen and like people, people tend to be a mirror and reflect right back to you the interest you show in them. I always find people to enjoy but it starts with listening to them first.
4 – Realize that everybody is not necessarily a future close friend
As a trusting person, I tend to be transparent. However, not everybody is worthy of trust. Nowadays, I tend to keep some things to myself until I decide if a person is someone I’d like to befriend or not. Face it, friendships can take time.
Sometimes having realistic expectations is healthy. Also, I’ve had people who just came on too strong wanting to be friends and that can be scary too. Just let things take time.
5 – Notice things but don’t jump to conclusions
Sometimes people have a bad day. Sometimes they are stressed. We all have moments when we really shouldn’t be out in public but we have to be.
While I know it is easy to make up your mind about someone right away, try to wait and give it a few times before making up your mind about someone. I sure have regretted when I jumped to a conclusion about someone and had to eat my words.
Give people the benefit of the doubt and perhaps they’ll give it to you.
6 – Be Interested and Interesting
Be interested in people. But also be interesting.
OK, so some of you might think this is funny but it is a challenge I have. So, I have a voice I use for podcasting (obviously) and it is a slightly different way than talking with people face to face. When you podcast, you tend to lower your voice a little bit. But if I use the podcasting voice face to face, it sounds different.
Sometimes I accidentally start using my podcasting voice when talking to people face to face – I’ll notice they start yawning. I immediately start varying the tone of my voice and their face will change back to the animated face that is interested. If you have a monotone or calming hypnotic voice — don’t use it face to face or people will think you’re a snoozer.
Fortunately, I work with my voice and figured this out. I figured it out by watching people’s body language. I don’t use my podcasting voice on stage either! We each have to notice and pay attention to the other person to pick up on cues like this.
But also having interesting stories – if it is the right time and right place is great as well.
7 – Be the Kind of Person You Wanted to Meet When You Were New
This is the biggest thing. What happens as soon as we make friends? We close off to new people! We forget what it was like!
Sometimes we can want to just cocoon and hang out in our little nest with the other moths. However, there are new people coming in who want to make friends too.
I just know what it is like to be left out. I never want that for anyone else. So, I want to be friendly.
Meet Mrs. Doris
When I think of a friendly person, I think of the 90+ year old precious lady in my Sunday school class, Mrs. Doris Jones. She was the first person to say hello to me and Kip when we visited our church. She said hello. She was friendly. And from then on, she said hello every time she saw us.
Later on I’ve gotten to know her better. Now realize this, Mrs. Doris knows everybody. She could be perfectly happy at her age and stage and never meet another person – but she meets and greets everybody, especially new people she doesn’t recognize!
Room for Everybody
But there’s more to Mrs. Doris than saying hello. She is not territorial! When I joined her Sunday school class, I sat in a chair near where she usually sits. She came in and I started to get up. She said,
“Vicki, what are you doing?”
“Well, Mrs. Doris, I think I’m in your chair.”
And she says something I’ll never forget,
“I’ve been coming here a pretty long time and I’ve never seen one chair in this whole church with my name on it.”
And that kind of attitude, my friends, will grow a school, a church, and a community. My church is full of people like Mrs. Doris which is why it grows and has more than 22 countries represented at last count.
I want my classroom to be this way. I want to be this way. How many teachers have been sitting in the same seat in staff meeting for years? How many newcomers leave because they weren’t made to feel welcome or they accidentally stepped on someone’s turf and drew back a nub where their hand used to be?
Let’s work on relationships
As I work to be more excellent, I’m working on being friendlier and following my own advice. I admit that someone like me with battlescars can take a while to truly make friends, but I’m getting there. Sure, we have to be vulnerable and reach out, but we can do it.
Because people who have friends never stop making them. They walk slowly through the crowd as I said in yesterday’s post.
We need people. We need each other. We need friends. And we need fellowship in a common purpose. Let’s be more excellent together and always make room for newcomers. The world will thank us!