23. Listen Closely

What I’d like to talk about today is very simple, but so complex. 

If a friend randomly starts talking about something (especially serious) in your conversation, be sure to pay close attention and engage with that because it’s likely something that has been on their heart or mind for some time.

For me, I have only a few very close friends. One in particular I’ve known since 2006, Josh, and he came to work for the Budweiser distributor shortly after I got hired. I remember thinking at first that he was really cocky and not really someone I thought would ever become one of the most significant friendships in my life. Even more so, he (and later his current girlfriend, now his wife, Melissa) would walk with me through my highest and lowest points over the past almost twelve years and they are a vital part of the story of how I got to where I am today. He proved to be really cocky and as one of my best friends, is my go-to source for tough love. We joke often that I really need to get my tough love advice from him after I’ve talked to Melissa, who is much more loving and sensitive, and gotten my emotions in check and have a more clear perspective of a situation I’m dealing with. Then he can swoop in and yell at me about how I need to stop b****ing (his words) and do something about it! 

With Josh and Melissa, typically every time I talk to them, it always ends up with me venting about some sort of stress I’m putting myself under, so I get regular doses of tough love from Josh and then she’ll often end up chastising him and chiming in from the background of the call. I don’t usually have to subtly hint at something that’s bothering me to them. With others, being comfortable in my assertiveness and transparency, I don’t have a problem being very open about a subject that I’m dealing with if there is a proven trust in that relationship, but I still feel the need to edge my way into talking about something.

I have noticed, however, that with newer relationships that are headed in the direction that I’m at with Josh and Melissa, where we are very likely to become very close friends and be in each other’s lives for years and years to come, you can’t always count on just coming right out with what you want to talk about. It’s also hard if you are hinting at something for the other person to pick up on your cues and help navigate into that conversation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because there is more than just one person involved, which means that there are more than just one set of experiences and expectations in play. 

This is why it can be so complex. Maybe the person on the other side of your conversation isn’t at a place where talking about a certain topic is something they’re comfortable with or want to be a part of how your particular relationship works. I don’t really know how that last sentence sits with me, but I wanted to say it anyway. I mean, if your friendship with that person is in a place where you haven’t shared a great deal of your personal history, struggles, or you just haven’t spent much time in the deeper conversations to this point, there’s still plenty of opportunity to expand in that area. Sometimes, it just means that you have to reach out and ask something like “how comfortable are you talking about more personal subjects, if at all?” Or you simply express to them that you feel great about where your friendship is headed and you just want to know what level of subject matter they are okay with discussing. This will change over time and hopefully you’ll see your conversations go deeper and richer. 

But, back to the original thought: if you’re having coffee or dinner with a friend and you go from talking about sports scores and your latest family vacation to your friend bringing up something like “Man, (or GIIIIIRL… << my attempt at imitating female gossip and remaining inclusive in case you’re a woman reading this 🤣) I can’t believe my significant other did this or that,…” there’s a cue that you should begin to listen closely and maybe try and find a respectable way to dig a little deeper and help them through having that conversation. If they lead with that kind of statement, they apparently don’t have an issue talking about it, but depending on what the “this” or “that” is that they are referring to, it may be their way of asking for your help to draw it out of them because they are not particularly sure that a sensitive conversation is appropriate to talk about with you. 

Likely, they won’t throw something touchy on the table in that way, and I was exaggerating their potential opening line a bit. Regardless of how it comes up, it’s your responsibility as their friend to be accommodating and to assure them that this conversation or environment with you is a safe place, free of judgement. Again, listen closely and be sure to tread carefully as you navigate conversations like these, because, aside from their somewhat apprehensive approach about talking about it, they obviously trust and see you as a solid source of wisdom or consolation and they are hoping that you will be extra receptive to their dilemna. The quote by Plato from a post I wrote a few weeks ago is a great reminder of this: 

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

*Side note: From a sermon series at our church recently, called “Guardrails,” if you are in a romantic relationship or married to someone that is not on the other side of this conversation, if you are a Christian, you’re already in a pickle because you are violating what is known as “The Billy Graham Rule.” According to Wikipedia, the Billy Graham Rule is “a practice among male Protestant Christian leaders, in which they avoid spending time alone with women to whom they are not married.” More on that next week!

Have a great weekend!

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