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Building Deep Friendships: Learning to Listen

I have been writing about building deep friendships over the past few weeks because I am deeply concerned that many young and middle-aged adults are growing older with surface or shallow relationships--or none at all. Our future can become very lonely if we do not make intentional moves with our friendships today.

In my previous post, I shared that nurturing relationships grow when they are watered by mutual self-disclosure and feedback. Self-disclosure involves sharing our thoughts, opinions, feelings and experiences with others, and I gave a quick exercise for how we can practice self-disclosure with a close friend. Feedback involves receiving encouragement, correction, instruction and advice from others; therefore, the key ingredient in receiving feedback is learning to listen.

Do You Like to be Challenged?

One of the questions I asked you to answer about yourself last week is "do you like to be challenged?" Suppose you say you like to be challenged, but your friend disagrees. Suppose you receive feedback along these lines: "You get pretty defensive whenever I call you out on your excuses. You block me out for a few days, then start talking back to me like nothing's wrong." We have all been here, in some way or another, when the feedback we receive from a friend is harsh--and worst, true. How can we learn to listen in the face of negative feedback that is actually accurate about us? We can do two things: ask for specifics and ask about the consequences of our behavior.

  • Ask for specifics: Find out the specific time(s) our friend observed our behavior. Even if it only happened once, it is enough to be addressed. This might provide an opportunity for us to explain our actions and/or intentions or an opportunity for us to honestly accept/confess the facts. For example, "What excuse did I make that you called me out on? When did you call me out on an excuse and I blocked you out?"

  • Ask about the consequences of our behavior: Find out how our actions impacted their thoughts and feelings toward us and themselves. For example, "How did you feel when I did that? What were you thinking in those days when I never said anything to you? How did you feel when I brushed it aside like it didn't happen?"

These discussions can be very difficult to have because our pride can get in the way of honest conversations. Many times, we fail at it--and many times, we have the opportunity to learn. Self-disclosure and feedback are continuous processes in intimate relationships that both ourselves and the other party must be committed to. I must point out, these strategies are not for surface-level friendships, so do not burden yourself with this level of depth with all your relationships. But if you want to build deep friendships, you have to start learning to really listen.

Have you been in a difficult conversation with a friend before? How did it go? Leave a comment below so we can learn from your experience or message me at

By Kerry-Ann McPherson

Project Manager & Contributor



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