As we love people, they share and disclose themselves and their lives. How should we act in light of our received knowledge? There are three levels of consideration.
First do not share these details.
Be aware of the trust you have been given. Be reliably discrete; make it clear you will keep confidences.
Listening to someone talk is about helping them become a new person. Part of that is leaving stuff behind, or only bringing it up when it is supportive and builds maturity.
I’m part of many spheres of influence, in contact with many different people in different stages. In an average week I will have communicated in a meaningful way with twenty people. So I’ll often refer to someone broadly – by mentioning I’ve had a recent conversation on a particular topic, without identifying the person the conversation was with. It is also why I’ve chosen to use fake names here. With Felicity and Jonathan, with Agnes and Bernard we consider the broad implications of situations and how to love, rather than stick with personal details.
Recently I was requested to give some advice on raising questions about your friend’s partner or fiancé. This can be a really important and loving thing to do. But even when your motives are good and you have real concerns, not all approaches are equal.
You love them
Because I love you I want to check in.
Make sure that you’re concerned about your friend and their well being. It doesn’t matter if you personally dislike their fiancé or partner – you need to have objective concerns about this person.
What about this?
Bring up any specific concerns you have. Don’t say, this is a really bad thing about your partner. Just raise the topic and ask them what they think about it, or how they are handling it.
Describe why you fear your friend is settling.
Do you just want a solid relationship and children?
Are you settling for a decent partner, as opposed to a good one?
What about their/or your chronic health condition?
What about their temper?
What about their gambling?
What about their dislike of your family?
What about their habit of criticising you?
What about her spending all your money?
What about your lack of similar interests?
What about your desire to move overseas?
What about different opinions on children?
Support for relationship
If you decide this is what you want, I will love and support you and your partner.
It’s not real love unless you’re willing to stick with your friend when they make choices with which you disagree. This may mean helping them work through the aftermath of problems that you 100% saw coming. Or it could mean apologising and admitting that your concerns were incorrect (though well-meant).
Also How to get married: by me, the Bride helpfully points out
Once you have found your One True Love, you need still permission.
Will you marry me? Yes.
Strawberry Bliss – frozen banana, frozen strawberry and coconut water whipped together, topped with chocolate sauce. Yum.
Yesterday I was hot and tired and sad. So I snuck Charlie’s Raw Squeeze to enjoy a Strawberry Bliss treat. Whilst there I bumped into Felicity, who I hadn’t seen for over a year, and her friend.
Stages of my conversation
Hello – will this chat be more than smiles and greetings?
When Felicity asked about my life I paused and thought for a few moments. I wanted to be fairly open but didn’t want my bipolar to dominate the conversation. So I said ‘There’s no way to answer this in one sentence but I’ll try. Last year I fell into a horrible season of depression where my bipolar was unstable. I’ve withdrawn from study and resigned from work. This semester I am recovering, reconnecting at church, writing a blog and caring for my sister’s kids whilst she studies.”
Bam honesty – time to lift the mood
To Felicity’s credit, there was only a slight expression of shock. I ventured a question about her old work, but was quickly shut down ‘I don’t work there anymore’. Then we chatted about the joys of Charlie’s Nice Cream and the blessings of air conditioning. I asked Felicity something fun she had done recently – she went to an Australia Day free theatre show.
- What have you read this week?
(Clarify for Christians you aren’t asking for some godly Bible answer)
- What’s the best dog trick you’ve seen?
- What’s your favourite pair of shoes?
- Which famous person would you like to buy a coffee?
- Which bridge is the ugliest in Brisbane?
You will notice some of these seem to overlap with my unusual question post – I think in circles, not really sorry about that.
There are also good recommendations from Kamina on how to stop asking about what people ‘do’.
I stood on a bone in the creek. Ouch! I delicately squealed, clung to nearest person, pulled it out and swished my foot in the salt water. A whole centimetre of spike had penetrated.
Skip forward two weeks, I rang my friend Felicity.
M- Hey, how are you going?
F – polite response.
M – do you have a few minutes? I want to whine.
F – Sure. What’s the matter?
M – My foot still hurts.
F- Oh, where you stood on the bone.
M – Yes, it still hurts and it’s so annoying. Grr. Every step I take pushes on it.
F – Well, if it’s still sore now, you probably have an infection.
M – No, I don’t think so. It’s just a bit painful.
F – It’s probably an internal infection. You should see a GP, they may give you antibiotics or lance it.
M – No, I was just calling to whinge. No need to make plans.
F – Right, yes. Sorry it hurts.
M – Thank you.
Sure, they reminded me to be an adult and see a doctor. But I really just wanted her to listen to me complain. She offered advice and tried to solve my problem. ANNOYING!
I notice it in her because it is my default.
I love you, I care about you, I want to fix whatever hard or sad thing you bring to me. You offhandedly mention glass blowing – bam! here are three places in Brisbane that do it.
Good Manners are social scripts, which show an awareness of people and gives structure to low intensity interaction. They are particularly helpful in complex social situations.
Greeting – Hello, how are you?
Please and Thank you
Not asking personal questions
But it’s sometimes boring and rarely allows me to know someone or for them to be known.
So I ask a deeper question every now and then. What have you read lately? What TV/movie do you recommend? If you were creating art, what medium would you use? What would be the title of your biography?
I like the unusual question because
– it gives expectation for the conversation to pause in order to respond thoughtfully
– it shows a desire for genuine connection
– it is not boring
– it puts all the awkwardness on me, I deviated from the script.
Of course, the flip side of the unusual question is surprising information. I have been at birthday parties and suddenly found myself discussing the recent end of a destructive relationship or an immediate unemployment.
Sometimes I may ask two trivial questions and then a more serious one.
Sometimes the conversation stops awkwardly and the pause/silence extends.
But I’ll keep doing it, because
I like pushing surface interactions a little deeper,
I like learning more about the person,
I like having interesting chats.
Some people function well in a work context but do not transfer their skills into personal life. (cough, Mum, cough).
Why? Do we worry about treating people in our personal lives like colleagues or employees? Do we worry our relationship will not be genuine?
That’s silly. It is our attitude and care for people that will be shown.
Use the skills we develop at work to provide intentional trellis for good communication and care for people. I worked in office administration for small businesses once upon a time. Here are 4 transferable skills.
Phone call planning
Before you call, think about what to say. Most importantly prepare the two sentences summary if I had to leave a voicemail message.
“Hi Felicity, just calling to say Happy Birthday. We haven’t seen you for a while, are you free next Friday for gelato?”
Agenda and action points
Meetings require agendas, to focus the meeting, allow members preparatory thoughts and to direct outcomes.
So before you see meet someone – Think.
Know the three things you want to discuss. Should you give the person your intended topics before you meet or at the start of the chat?
“Hi Felicity, when we have coffee next week let’s talk through your goals for the summer.”
“Hi GP, There’s three things I wanted to raise with you. My prescription has run out, I have this strange mole on my arm and what over the counter medication should I be using for my hayfever?”
Three ways to be considerate in conversation
1. Refrain from difficult topics
Ambling home from school with my 7 yr old niece K, talking about the friends coming to visit. Our friends recently lost their baby. I ask her not to talk about her coming baby brother or sister. She connects that talking about babies might make our friends sad. Then I explain that our friends might want to talk about the baby but we should wait until they bring it up.
I freely acknowledge K is an unusual child. But she could connect from the details of the situation to a loving response and could understand when I made clear other considerations. She could see what NOT to say. She could see topics NOT to raise.
Anticipate and Prepare
Talking to people can be difficult, even if you enjoy talking. One way that helps me is to anticipate questions and have a prepared pat paragraph.
This helps in three types of conversation: the boring polite, the repetitive inquiry and the emotionally heightened.
The purpose of these prepared sentences is to give your brain space, lower the effort level and reduce any anxious thoughts.
Initially suggested by my dad for visits with my grandparents. We knew they would ask about school – rather than the shrug and mumbling of ‘stuff’. We could prepare a couple of sentences to utter, then be comfortable in the conversational lull.
Q: How’s school?
A: We are reading Pygmalion in English, I’m finding the phonetics interesting. I like the exploration of social class and the broader cultural change required over the asethic.
This answer is polite, required little effort and has given hooks for the next step of conversation. Of course your paragraph would be less nerdy.