Difficult Conversations vs. Friendship

According to Merriam-Webster, a conversation is a noun and is defined as a (1): oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas, a(2):  an instance of such exchangea quiet conversation, b:  an informal discussion of an issue by representatives of governments, institutions, or groups, an exchange similar to conversation, 2)  Conduct, Behavior.  Whether meeting a stranger, talking to an acquiesce, a friend, or a best friend, verbal and non-verbal communication is the key to a mutually healthy relationship.  Throughout this article, I will discuss the stages relationships go through, as mentioned above, and how to keep conversations on a mutually welcoming path.

Whether at a party, restaurant, bus stop, subway, food store, department store, or even on the beach, everyone you don’t know starts as a stranger.  A stranger is someone you don’t know or are unfamiliar with; thus, neither knows how they will act toward each other the first time.  The second stage is becoming acquainted, which occurs when two strangers come in contact with usually because of an association, club, activity, or other common interest.  After the acquaintance stage, the friendship stage begins, where each keeps plans, they make with each other because you are each a priority in your lives.   Some will reach the stage of you both becoming best friends, such as not judging you, always being kind to you, may laugh with you, never doing things to hurt your feelings deliberately, or wanting to put you down.

Now that you understand the basic hierarchy of a stranger to the potential of being a best friend let me explore how the stages progress.  Most people want to rush to home base before ever getting first, let alone even hitting the ball.  Would you eat a frozen waffle before putting it into the toaster or take a shower before getting undressed?  These may seem absurd, but they are no different from attempting to rush a stranger into being your best friend at the first meeting.

People attempt to rush the process by forgetting what boundaries are, how to read the social cues, and how and what is said during communication.  Boundaries are demarcation lines from what someone is comfortable talking about to what may be uncomfortable.  You may ask why people are uncomfortable talking about certain topics, and it is because they don’t know you and have not built any level of trust with you.  Paying attention to whether answers to questions are one word would indicate uncomfortably as opposed to long sentences.  Also, observe whether someone is standing closer to you or further as you are talking.  When someone moves away from you, they become uneasy or lack interest in what you are discussing.

Presume you just went to get a pair of shoes at your favorite shoe store and asked them to check if they have them in your size.  This person may or may not have introduced himself to you; nevertheless, he is a stranger.  Thus, the communication should be kept strictly about the purchase and, at most, about questions regarding the store/mall or, at farthest, the weather. Derk returns with the shoes I wanted to try in a few minutes.  Most sales consultants ask if you want to help to try them on.  Sometimes they may ask are buying these for a special event or occasion not meaning any harm.  However, you may need to be more comfortable sharing what they are for.  Thus, you respond by saying yes to an event out of state this week.  He may ask what type of event, and then you respond by saying a family event.  He should get the hint that you are open to discussing this any further and should respect your wishes.  If he continues, you may say, “Hey Derek, I appreciate all your help getting me the most comfortable shoe, and please keep the conversation to my shoes and wardrobe only.” 

Sales consultants do this because they want you to believe they are genuinely interested since they are hoping you will leave them a big tip.  The conversation also could have gone a different way, making the sales consultant uneasy.  Derek is several years younger than me, and perhaps I may have noticed his ring and said, “Derek, that’s a high school ring.”  Yes, I will be a Senior at Brookstone Academy High School next year, and I just got it last week.”  Do you have a girlfriend, Derek?  Derek says “No” but with a slight lump in his throat.  I say, “Great, you should meet Mary, my daughter; she has been on the honor roll every single period at Mary Help of Christians Girls Academy and is also a junior this year.  You should meet Mary, an attractive girl, and I think you two would hit it off.  Shall I give you her number?”  Derek starts to back away from me and then says, “Oh, I’m good.” I then say, “So you have a girlfriend then.” “No, I’m busy with work and preparing for my finals. As he moves further away from me with his hands folded.  He says, “Shall I ring these up, or is there anything else I can get you.” I then reply, “Yes, a date with my daughter.”  “Sir, I have already told you I’m not interested, and would you please stop?  Do you see how not recognizing the signs of a stranger may put either of you in precarious unwanted situations?

Why Derek is not interested is not any of my business, and he did make it clear that he was not interested.  This could be considered in many jurisdictions as harassment and could subject a party to legal action.  Maybe Derek is busy with school, doesn’t like girls, and doesn’t want to spend money on dates till college; it doesn’t matter.  Derek’s choice is a privilege to act, so he chooses without sharing why he doesn’t want to.


Now pretend you are at a subway station and ask the person next to you, “Do you know what time the next bus/subway to the north street is.”  “Yes, it is in ten minutes from now, on track 7, and it’s the second stop” “Thanks, I appreciate it,” “You’re welcome, my pleasure.”  This conversation is much more welcome than the previous one and is even giving me more information to be helpful to me.  I get on the subway with the other guy, and during the trip, he says to me, “Do you come up to this end of town often” “No, about twice a month, as I have a client up here, and you,” “Yes, daily I work around the corner from North Street as that’s my stop too.”  “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name; I’m Joe,” “It’s Chris,” “Hey Chris, nice to meet you” “Same here” “Listen, it’s past lunchtime, and I’m starved. Do you want to catch a bite I know a great tavern on North Street”.  “Sure, I don’t have to meet the client until 2 PM, and it’s 11 AM Now” “Kool, I don’t have to be in the office till 1:30 PM Today”.  Do you see how this is mutually going from stranger to acquaintance?  After Lunch, Joe said to me, “Hey, Chris, this was fun. Do you want to do this again, “sure,” “Great, l will give you my card. Do you have one, and we can set up a time in the future when you are coming in” “Nice, yes, here is my card, have a great one, Chris, and I look forward to it” “Met too, Joe” 

Sound like Chris and Joe are on the way to building a great friendship.  Now it is vital that both parties set a date/time, keep that commitment, demonstrate respect, and start supporting each other.  Thus, each person should continue to become genuinely interested in the other.  The next time they meet, the conversation may touch on other areas such as work, hobbies, maybe even challenges they are experiencing in life, etc.  What matters is that they each move across in a mutually agreeable manner in which both parties feel comfortable.  If, by the third hangout, the other party doesn’t share a minor vulnerability, why not share one?  Again, this should not be your most profound thought but something to break the ice.  Usually, the other party will respond with a similar level of vulnerability, and trust can now start to get strengthened more.

Take it slow; watch for body language, and remember Rome was not built in a day.  Too many people destroy the beginning of a great friendship by rushing to home plate before having their bat in hand.  Another great thing to do is suggest some fun activity like going to an amusement park or indoor/outdoor spots activity as it has been shown that when dopamine levels in our brains rise, good feels and more bonds build.

Thus, in closing, we need to live in the moment and see strangers in places of our common interests as a potential opportunity to be friends.  Did you know that discovering a friend will help you unlock hidden gems and talents in yourself that would have been untapped or explored? 



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