If you’re worried about being a bad friend, or you’re wondering whether you’ve got a bad friend yourself, I wrote an article talking about how we are all bad friends at times:
Rest assured: we all do wrong. But how do we make amends? Here’s my follow up to that first article:
If something you’ve done hurt someone else, apologies have to be made first. Learning to openly and clearly say sorry is so important for keeping relationships healthy and happy. It all starts here, with the demonstration of wanting to do better.
Start showing up
If your issue is reliability, it’s pretty important to start showing up. Metaphorically or literally. Be there, answer the call, answer the text — demonstrate that you are available and present. And show up (in person) when you’re invited. Of course you don’t have to always commit to people, and having a break from someone isn’t a problem, but if you’re a routine invite-decliner, don’t be surprised if people eventually stop inviting you to things. It doesn’t feel great to be routinely rejected, particularly when there doesn’t seem to be a great reason for it. If there is a reason, make it known. Otherwise, be aware that this comes across as a little rude or aloof…
Ask yourself: why aren’t you showing up? What’s the barrier? Is it just that you actually don’t want to be friends with this person? Is there other stuff going on in life that needs your attention first? Do they know/understand that? Will you be able to make time for them soon? Ultimately, it’s pretty hard to be friends with someone who isn’t reliable, either in person or emotionally.
Make the time to talk things over
Showing that you want to make amends can be achieved by making a time to actually sit down and clearly address things that have gone wrong. It can feel a little serious (maybe even confrontational) but the chance to have a very clear and direct conversation, touching upon the things that haven’t been going right, can be freeing when there are grudges being held or frequent miscommunication. Agree what hasn’t worked, what has worked, and how you can move forward.
A renewed effort to make amends means making sure to really listen to what has been going on. I have a lot to say about listening and to quote myself for a second here;
If you’re faced with someone who you’re not quite sure is ever listening to you, it’s worth starting by gently pointing this out before you write them off, by asking a question like, “Is there something going on? You seem distracted.” Or, “Are you sure you want to listen right now?” Recognising that you are not feeling listened to, and offering the other person the option to explain or respond, is a good way to figure out whether they are just having a hard time (and you’re asking them to listen in a bad moment, so the timing is just out of sync) or whether they just aren’t really sure how to listen well. It can be a great opportunity for both of you to clarify your needs and expectations of the way you communicate together.
Are You Really Listening? Improve Your Listening for Better Relationships
Listen up, bad listeners: it’s time to practice. Here’s how…
Understand what the boundaries are, and respect them
One of the big problems in a friendship is when you lay out some boundaries and they are trespassed. Have clarity on what you need from the relationship, and therefore what the boundaries are. We often hurt people in response to bypassed boundaries, so make sure you now know exactly what they are, and therefore how to avoid the same reactions in future.
Introduce and involve them
When I moved to London, I found it almost impossible to crack into any friendship circle. That was a lot to do with the fact that, unfortunately, the only people I knew in town were completely unwilling to invite me into their existing circles. It meant that I had to go about friendship the hard way, meeting people in activities and classes and hoping we’d click. I have done my best not to repeat this with others — I regularly connect people that I know, by introducing them to each other. I hope that I can show my friends that I love and care for them by ensuring they are involved in my life, beyond just meeting them once in a while for a coffee. Show people you want them around by inviting them over, inviting them in, and demonstrating how you value them.
Get okay with silence
It shouldn’t be awkward to be silent sometimes, if you’re both comfortable with each other. Get okay with silence together, too. Learn not to take it as an offence, and hope that they too will not take it badly — after all, if you’re comfortable side by side, it’s important to know that you don’t have to fill the silence just for the sake of it.
Keep in touch
And on the other hand, you can’t always wait for them to do the work. Reaching out is important. Don’t rely on the other person all the time. Show that you’re interested, you’re willing to make time for them, and you want to be in their life and have them in yours.
Show them, don’t tell them
There’s plenty of value in an honest and open conversation, but eventually you have to stop talking and get on with the business of being a decent friend. Showing you are willing to help and willing to go out of your way for someone is one of the most powerful things you can do as a supportive and caring friend. This is often a catch-22; when we sense that someone else might not be all that willing to help out, we start to retract our own helpfulness. But when we know we’ve done wrong, it helps to demonstrate that we are willing to be the supportive friend we always wanted to be. So going the extra mile helps reset the trust.
Ultimately, talking only achieves so much — your actions have to match your intentions. You can say all sorts of things about what you intend, but at the end of the day you do have to do those things. You can’t just keep saying you’ll try, without any demonstrable effort towards trying. Do the thing!
Friendships as an adult can get tough, and things happen in life that mean we do bad friendship behaviour, even without realising it. But there’s usually room to make amends, if you’re serious about repairing a friendship. Of course, things can go too far and this can mean that a relationship is irreparable. And sometimes your friend isn’t willing to forgive. Those are unfortunate things, and they do happen.
But if you demonstrate willingness to change, willingness to do better and make amends, and this isn’t the 100th instance of you needing to do this, then you have done what you can do. If you’re a serial offender, don’t be surprised if you eventually get cut off. But otherwise, hope that your friend is the forgiving type — that they want to repair things as much as you do. It isn’t always possible, but where it is and where it is worth doing, it can make a relationship with someone all the happier.