Life coaching expert Tal Fagin responds to a reader’s request for advice regarding a frustrating friendship. She offers three steps to take and suggests several questions to be considered.
I have a friend who always expects me to be available for her when she calls or visits. I usually drop everything I am doing—or planning to do—to accommodate her plans. And sometimes she cancels at the last minute after I have already rearranged my schedule. I like her and don’t want to lose her as a friend, so I have been reluctant to tell her that it bothers me. Can you give me some guidance on the matter?
Dear Frustrated Friend,
Congratulations! You have taken the all important first step in resolving any problem — naming it. Clearly, you value your friendship with Flaky Friend (may I call her that?), enough that you have reached out in an effort to improve it. At the same time, a few of her attitudes and habits leave you feeling quite irritated and annoyed. This, undoubtedly, must be casting an unfortunate cloud over the entire relationship.
What to do?
As a coach, I generally provide guidance by asking the right questions, so let’s begin there.
What is your definition of a “friend?” Does this person truly qualify?
Does Flaky Friend really “always” expect you to be available for her?
WHY-OH-WHY do you “usually drop everything” to accommodate her?
Why have you been reluctant to voice your frustration? Are you truly afraid that a gentle expression of disappointment will end the friendship?
I urge you, before reading any further, to stop and ask yourself each one of these questions, and to keep asking yourself … WHY? … until you reach an answer that feels like an AHA!
This manner of self investigation is the second step, after recognizing and naming, toward resolving any sticky interpersonal situation. You must take the focus off of the other person, and turn it onto yourself. Go deep, no one is watching. Why is any of this bothering you? Why is it a problem for you? Sometimes these “why” questions seem obvious, but I assure you, the answers tend to differ from person to person, and they are the key to improving most any conflict.
Now back to you, Frustrated Friend.
I do not know your friend, or her side of the story, but what you have described sounds less like friendship, and more like a stress-inducing, angst-provoking, ripe-for-rejiggering relationship.
Personally, I like to think of friendship as a relaxing place, more akin to a beach vacation than a tough day at the office. The secret sauce in all of my greatest friendships is a combination of trust, mutual respect, delighting in one another’s company and the ability to be my true self.
This includes the freedom to always tell it like it is.
Which brings us to the third step in our problem solving adventure – action! After pondering the above questions (and hopefully ascertaining why all of this is bothering you — perhaps the disrespect Flaky Friend has displayed – for you, your friendship and your time?), ask yourself a few more questions:
What would you like to see happen here?
What might you do differently?
What would you say or do if there were no risk of losing the friendship?
Friendships, like all precious things, are never One Size Fits All. We all rely upon different friends for different reasons. I might call Jenna when I need to vent, but Jamie when I need to laugh. I might reach out to Sara for career advice, but Susan for fashion tips. There are friends with whom I like to hike, others with whom I prefer to wine and dine. The common thread they all share? I trust them. I value them. I enjoy them. I accept them for who they are, and I expect the same in return.
This includes my flaky friends. I, too, have a few. They are busy women with careers and children and countless responsibilities. They are great fun to be with — when you can pin them down — but reliability is not necessarily their jig. I know this about them, and I accept it. I enjoy these women for their many special and charming qualities, but I do not expect them to be different than they are, and accordingly, they never disappoint.
I have learned over the years how to nourish the friendships that light me up, how to walk away from those that drag me down and most importantly, how to enjoy people for their unique and specific selves, without expecting them to conform to some general standard or to be anyone other than who they are.
This, my Frustrated Friend, is exactly what I would like for you.
Your options here are myriad. Perhaps a gentle and direct, open and honest conversation is in order. Or, you might feel that Flaky Friend isn’t capable of change, yet you might resolve to stop being so accommodating. You might realize that while this one aspect of your friend’s personality is troubling, she has ample other good qualities to justify your continued devotion. You might simply end the friendship. Or, better yet, you may find a creative solution of your own.
Before you do anything, I’d invite you to ponder the steps and questions laid out above, and find out what frienship means to you so you can determine your right course of action.
Hope this helps,