Everybody wants to have friends. Growing up, I often heard, “If you want to have friends, you have to be a friend.” To me, that statement always left more questions than answers.
I was recently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey with my students and I came upon the best explanation of how to not only be a friend but how to work effectively with others.
Covey explains that with every person we meet, we have a “relationship bank account.” It’s similar to a savings account in that we can make deposits and withdrawals, and we can be in the red or in the black with any person.
While each of us is unique, there are certain rules we can follow to be on good terms with our neighbours.
The first topic Covey discusses is the importance of keeping our promises. If we say we will do something, we need to follow through. People don’t want to be with those they can’t trust.
The next type of deposit is to do small acts of kindness. We do these without expecting anything in return. It doesn’t have to be anything big; it could be something as simple as a compliment. We like others who are kind, and doing nice things for others is also a great way to feel good ourselves.
The third type of deposit is far too often overlooked. It’s simply to be loyal. When someone tells us a secret, we need to keep it a secret. Nothing destroys relationships like gossip.
Covey points out that when we participate in gossip, everyone who hears us is thinking, “Wow, if he talks about that person like this when he’s not around, what’s he saying about me when I’m not around?”
There’s also something unseen that damages our relationship with the person we talk about. We know deep inside we’ve said something we shouldn’t have and they almost seem to know, too.
Of course, all discussions about others are not gossip. I tell my students that when I talk to their parents, I’m not gossiping; we’re discussing strategies for them to be more effective students. In fact, I’d be happy if students were present to hear our discussions. The bottom line is “strong minds talk about ideas; weak minds talk about people.”
The next type of deposit is to simply listen. We all long to be heard without judgment. Maybe this is why we love our pets so much. They’re simply present in our lives. It’s even more wonderful to have a friend who listens with an open mind, who really hears us.
Of course, none of us are perfect. We all need to say we’re sorry from time to time. Nothing infuriates us more than the person who remains arrogant and defensive. If we can honestly be sorry and work to rebuild after our mistakes, and if the other person can truly forgive, our relationships will be healthy and long-lasting.
The final point Covey makes is to set clear expectations. This ties in with the first point of keeping promises, but it goes further. We need to know what we can expect from others and they from us, whether it’s a family member or a co-worker.
The classic challenge in our close friendships is when one person is interested in romance and the other simply wants to be friends. This is a boundary that needs to be clearly understood and always respected.
Human relationships are complex. Some people will be difficult to get along with no matter what we do and not everyone will like us. One can always choose to be good to others and follow simple principles, however.
If I’m a good friend, I will always have friends.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.