Friendship: Deep Listening is the New Being There

Two years ago my partner and I set out on a journey. The idea was to build an intentional community of friends. A virtual home for those whose values, likes, and dislikes were compatible with ours.

A friendship comfort zone.

Companionship and communion are close to the top of anyone’s bucket list for a happy life. So as we took our first dip into the retirement pool, moving to a resort-like city 500 miles to the south, finding friends became our noble goal.

Sadly, the endeavor turned out to be a tall order not easily achievable. Because making new friends isn’t quite as simple as it once was.

At our age, friendship is an intellectual and emotional pursuit. It’s hard work and time-consuming. Filled with expectations and disappointments. A heavy-lift, as opposed to the more casual process of friendships developed while young, when we’re a clean slate. More casual. Devoid of cynicism and lacking an insular world view that takes root long before retirement.

Nevertheless, after some trial and error and more than a few heart-to-heart talks between us about process, we began to see some encouraging results.

Until friendship became an extreme sport.

Enter the Coronavirus

Covid-19 changed everything.

Isolation. Exposed vulnerabilities. Twisted nerves. A stock market meltdown. More questions than answers.

What could go wrong with a plan to develop friendships while wearing a mask and gloves?

Zoom technology might be fine as a touch-base with long-term friends. But for humor, irony, and a bit of urban repartee, nothing can replace a couple of hours at a neighborhood Starbucks, huddled over a small cafe table.

In other words – the old normal.

The New Normal of Friendship

Distancing.

It might be fine for the maintenance of existing friendships, but it’s tantamount to absentee ownership in a new one.

Relationships don’t feed themselves. They rely on attention. Forward movement. A deft hand at keeping in touch so that a new friendship doesn’t detach from the mother ship.

We’ll need to get past our caught-in-the-headlights reaction to the current situation so we can focus on communication applying latter-day rules. Relearn phone skills. Excel at Face Time. Be Zoom-approachable.

But how do you build and sustain relationships under such forced conditions?

You Listen

You take advantage of moments that can only be recognized by deep engagement.

Listening is the new Being There.

Listening with care and wisdom for what’s underneath a friend’s words. The fears filling an awkward pause. The meaning behind a fairly innocuous sigh. The frustrations articulated by changes in tone and tenor.

Listening is where the opportunity for intensified friendship lives during the time of the virus. And beyond.

No Prep Necessary

The benefits of being there are bountiful.

If you’ve listened well enough, your responses will demonstrate emotional availability. Provide safe-harbor for a friend’s expression of insecurity, gratitude, and a willingness to get closer. Deep listening is a way to provide affirmation anchored in truth. An understanding of what makes the other person tick.

And the best part about listening is this: there’s no prep necessary.

Good actors live in the listening moment on stage or in films. Automatically know how to respond with authenticity. Following that lead will drive your best instincts forward. Give you the confidence to explore new territory with someone you want to get to know better.

That’s the gift of deep listening.

First published on Sixty and Me.

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