Many of us struggle with making and keeping friends. Interpersonal relationships are challenging and complex. Sometimes, however, we sabotage relationships without even realizing it. Here are three reasons others might have trouble liking us:
1. We’re self-absorbed.
Benjamin Franklin, perhaps one of the most effective ambassadors in United States history, once said, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” It’s true. When we’re self-absorbed, our worlds are very small. We are the suns in our own universes. We evaluate every decision based on whether it suites us, benefits us, or makes us look good. If we do something nice for someone, we only do it when it’s convenient, easy, or cheap.
When we’re self-absorbed, our vocabularies are miniscule. Every sentence begins with I. Our needs, feelings, and problems dominate every conversation. When someone wants to talk about themselves, we listen long enough to be polite, then turn the conversation back to ourselves.
Scripture has the answer for our self-absorption: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
To become less self-absorbed and more likeable, we can begin with these three steps:
a. Look people in the eyes and smile. Self-absorbed people rarely smile because they’re so focused on themselves they barely notice those around them.
b. Start each conversation by asking, “What’s new in your life?” and then genuinely listen. Only talk about yourself if someone asks, and then only briefly.
c. Look for ways to serve others, especially those who have nothing to give back. Do it in Jesus’ name. When I’ve done this, I’ve found that the joy of serving others far surpasses whatever selfish pleasure I gain when I serve myself.
2. We complain a lot.
“When you consistently maintain a positive frame of mind, you’ll become known as a problem solver rather than a complainer. People avoid complainers. They seek out problem solvers,” says Joseph Sommerville, PhD, from his book, The 5 Keys to Interpersonal Success.
When we complain, we’re self-focused and reek with an air of entitlement. Christians are sometimes the worst because we think if we check off all the boxes (attend church, give money, live morally), God is obligated to bless us. We treat God like a spiritual Coke machine—we put the payment in (our goodness) and expect the product (an easy, pain-free life) to drop out. When this doesn’t happen, we whine and complain. Nobody enjoys being around a whiner.
Scripture offers an alternative to complaining: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thes. 5:18).
To become less whiny and complain-y, we can begin with these two steps:
a. Begin a gratitude journal. Every morning, before you get out of bed, write down three things for which you are grateful. Some days will be easier than others, but if you keep it up, by year’s end you’ll have listed over one thousand God-given gifts. (Thank you, Ann Voskamp, for this idea.)
b. Speak your thanks aloud, both to God and to others. Speaking words aloud gives them weight and credibility. When I speak words of gratitude, I begin to feel grateful. And it’s hard to complain when I’m feeling grateful.
A grateful heart is a happy heart, and happy people are winsome and attractive.
3. We are critical and negative.
Closely tied to reasons one and two, a critical, negative spirit pushes people away instead of attracting them. Our words make them feel inadequate and uncomfortable. Even our non-verbal signals are off-putting. No one likes to be around someone who makes them feel bad about themselves.
Scripture has a suggestion for this negative character trait: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29).
To become less critical and negative, we can begin with these three steps:
a. Say something affirming to at least three people every day. Don’t lie; they won’t believe you. Even if someone is difficult, if we look closely, we can usually find something positive to say about them. When we speak affirming words, we bless others and we bless ourselves. The world in which we live is depressingly negative, but “a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prov. 25:11). Kind words are refreshingly therapeutic.
b. Give people the benefit of the doubt—assume the best of someone rather than the worst.
c. Breathe grace. Even if someone makes a mistake, fails in some way, or behaves unkindly, it’s seldom our job to point it out. I’ve heard it said, “We want justice for everyone else and grace for ourselves.” Unless we’re perfect, we need all the grace we can get and should be equally willing to spread a thick layer of it on everyone else. And grace begets grace.
I have a dear friend who says something kind, affirming, or gracious every time we talk. I’m not the only person she blesses this way; she refreshes and encourages many. Instead of being critical and negative, she uses her words to build up those around her. Because of this, she has many friends.
We all want to be liked. Sometimes, however, without realizing it, we fall into negative thought or behavior patterns that push people away. While they aren’t easy to correct, with conscious effort we can change. As we become less focused on ourselves, we become the type of people others enjoy being around. We are blessed, and they are too.
What are your suggestions for making and keeping friends? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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