1. Be Courteous
The preliminary phase of the conversation calls for tact and courtesy. Even if your friend assures you that he or she is always available for you, show some consideration for the person’s time.
If you make the contact, inquire “Is this a good time for us to talk?” before you jump into your story. Don’t take it for granted that your conversation is the only thing or the most important thing on the agenda. If your friend indicates preference for another time, be gracious and arrange for an appropriate call-back time. Such consideration lets your friend know that you value the time you spend talking with each other, and that you are interested in gaining the maximum use of that time. Your friend will enjoy the conversation better if she does not have to hurry, and if she can give you her full attention.
On the other hand, if your friend makes the contact, listen for the reason she called, before you start sharing your excitement or your despair. As for the rest of the conversation, keep it appropriate to the level of friendship. Be humble and forgiving if either one is unintentionally discourteous and discuss boundaries to prevent similar offenses from recurring.
2. Be Interested
Take care not to be the friend who takes every opportunity to tell a story about you. For example, your friend says, “I got a speeding ticket this morning.” Your friend really wants you to weigh in on how unfortunate and undeserving that is; but without even recognizing his despondent mood, you respond with “Really? Did I tell you that I got a ticket last week?” And then you tell your story, leaving your friend waiting to tell his.
Show interest in the conversational need of your friend, and offer appropriate forms of support. “These cops surely know how to spoil your day” will validate his misfortune, even if you remind him later about the danger of speeding.
Ask questions to help him express how he feels. “Have you thought about disputing the ticket?” You may not know exactly how to help, but your interest will make your friend know that you’re standing by him. What’s the use of having a friend, if you find yourself alone in distress? That applies to episodes ranging in seriousness from traffic tickets to severe loss. Show interest in your friend’s joy or dilemma and resist the temptation to be the featured character in every plot. Let your friend have his day.
3. Be Sensitive
You do not have to understand everything. Know when to stop probing before you hit a nerve. Everyone has the right to decide what he will and will not divulge. It is not always about confidentiality and trust; sometimes it’s about post traumatic stress disorders. Your friend is not obligated to bare his guts on every issue in his life; still he may one day, when he decides that the time is right.
Where there are negative circumstances like divorces and other situations resulting from past relationships, friendship dictates acceptance not based on the facts, but despite the facts. Genuine friends have a way of hearing what is not said and responding appropriately.
Also be careful about the jokes you make, and the stories you tell. Laughter is usually a feature in pleasant conversations; be careful that it happens in good taste.
4. Be Supportive
If you have the habit of finishing your friend’s sentences you may be suggesting that your friend is incompetent. Your friend has the right to make his own point at his own pace. Be patient and practice listening while he is thinking what to say, or he is stuttering. There is no set words-per-minute rate for friendly conversations. Wait for him to ask for help if he needs it.
If you’re always editing your friend’s words and sentences, you may be assuming that you’re more intelligent than she is. An occasional correction is in place when it is obvious that your friend meant to use another word, or unintentionally gave wrong information. Otherwise, remember that there is more than one way to express the same idea. She wants to make her point her way. Your preference for words and phrases is yours. Allow your friend to choose her own.
If you steer the conversation into criticisms about your friends or other people you know, you may belittle yourself in your attempt to belittle others. Eventually, you may frustrate yourself when you do not achieve the desired effect, and consequently introduce a negative mood into the conversation. Avoid cunning habits like asking questions merely to have your friends trap themselves with their answers. Good friends build up each others’ spirits, not break them down.
Be the Friend You Need
Think of ways to affirm your friends and of reasons to applaud them. Be a cheerleader for their strengths and achievements. Talk with them about your respect for their talents and your appreciation for your close relationship. Find reasons to thank them even for little acts of kindness. The closer you become, be the more careful to maintain your respect in the relationship.
Never take their presence, their feelings or their time for granted. Let your words declare that you honor them. Feed each others’ souls with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, among other godly virtues. Make them feel loved, wanted and important. Give them positive reasons to smile and to laugh. Be to them the friend you need.
Approach your conversations with the attitude that if there’s going to be only one pleasant event in their day, it will be your conversation with them.