Damaging a friendship can be easier than you think.
No matter how you look at it, relationships are among the most powerful assets you have to achieve success in life and at work. Yet too many of us unwittingly destroy relationships and drive friends away by giving in to a few bad behaviours that put people off. Most of the time, we do not even know we are doing it.
See how many of these behaviours you recognise in other people or in yourself.
Making everything about you
You know how this goes. You start telling someone about the incredible trip you have just come back from and then, somehow, you are listening to your friend’s lengthy account of a vacation several years ago. You start telling someone about your very painful divorce, and the conversation gets steered into an account of that person’s own bad breakup.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to make this mistake. Sometimes you start out intending only to mention your own experience so your friend will know you can relate – but then your brief mention turns itself into a longer account. Resist the urge by making sure you quickly get back to what you and your friend were originally talking about. And remember that, in any exchange, you should spend at least as much time listening as you do talking.
Giving in to jealousy
Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies. Is that how you feel? Sadly, too many of us secretly feel the same way. So, when we hear about someone else’s success, we feel the need to tear it down somehow. I have a former friend who, when my husband and I first got together, tried hard to talk me out of the relationship. When I landed my first decently-paid book deal, she tore into it, telling me it was terrible. She even posted about it in an online forum where we were both members saying I was too starry-eyed about it and asking other people there to help convince me how bad it was. (No one did.)
Being jealous of our friends’ successes is normal and natural, and at the same time illogical. Having successful friends is good for us, not bad for us, because they can provide valuable contacts and advice to help us boost our own careers. Plus, seeing someone we know achieve something that seemed out of reach makes whatever it is feel a little more possible.
When someone tells me about a great success and I find myself in the grip of jealousy, sometimes I fight it by simply expressing it. ‘I have to confess, I am a little jealous of your success.’ If you say it kindly and without rancour, most people will feel flattered. And I have usually found that admitting to the sentiment robs it of most of its power.
We all face difficult times, frustrations, and disappointments, and being able to vent about these to our friends is one of the things that makes friendships beneficial. But if most of your conversations consist of you recounting how you have been unfairly treated, or how you just cannot catch a break, watch out. If your friend has healthy boundaries, he or she may start staying away from you because, as science shows, listening to non-stop complaining is actually bad for brain function.
By the way, you should not accept non-stop complaints from the people in your life any more than you expect them to put up with it from you. If someone you care about cannot seem to stop complaining, point it out and ask to change the subject. If that does not work, seek some distance.
This is something I’ve been guilty of, and it is a bad thing to do. You have not seen your friend in a long while, but you have been unusually busy. You will make sure to catch up with him or her later on when you have some free time. Or your friend has left you a voicemail several days ago and you just haven’t had a minute to return the call. Or it is your friend’s birthday, but you’ve been just too overwhelmed to get a present or even a card. You will make up for it sometime soon.
We all have busy lives, and sometimes those lives interfere with our friendships. But friendships, like all relationships, thrive on consistency and dependability. When those elements are missing, it is hard for your friends to know where they stand. It need not take a lot of your time to keep a friendship on a strong footing. But it does take paying attention. It won’t work if sometimes you are there and sometimes not.
Being excessively needy
What do I mean by ‘excessively needy’? All of us need help from our friends sometimes and being able to admit to that need and to ask for help is an essential life skill. Those are good things to do.
But I had a friend whose every social media post began like this: ‘Help!’ Help, I need advice. Help, I need someone to do me a favour. Help, I need someone to reassure me and buck me up. Help, I need someone to share their work contacts with me so I can make a sale. This same friend often asked me to come to her house to provide moral support because something had upset her, would invite me to a party and instruct me what to bring, would insist that I recommend her for jobs, whether or not I thought she was qualified to do them. If you ask for help in every conversation, chances are you’ll wear out your friends’ generosity. I can tell you that this friend wore out mine.
A successful relationship is about giving as well as getting. It needs to be at least somewhat reciprocal and even-handed. If one party is always asking for help and support from the other, that balance won’t be there, and your friendship may teeter.
Trishna Patnaik is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one-to-one basis in Mumbai.