I’ve always loved working with friends. Once, however, during a creative project one of friendships went belly up, flip-flop… see you later. I learned the hard way, since developing the tools to make and build better friend connections.
Helping a friend, especially if you can’t fulfill your commitment, can feel like a threat to them, that they’re being shamed, rather than being helped.
The creative project was many years ago, when I managed a small theater company. A close friend wanted to venture into play writing – she was a published writer and lecturer – so I said, hell yesssss… go do it!
Problem was that when I read my friend’s play, hmmm… didn’t love it.
The theater company’s head honchos let me run a program for new plays and first-time directors on Monday and Tuesday nights – when the theater was dark. Although everything was still subject to approval by the Artistic Director, who was a (often) crazy, artistic man who was a terrific director and actor himself.
How Helping a Friend Backfired
Regardless, I gave the play to the Artistic Director with a smile, asking him to read the play. A few days later, from behind his large desk, he gazed at me over his bifocals, “You’re going to direct this, right?”
“You know, she’s a close friend so I don’t think I will. But, there’s a few new directors who can work with her.”
“No,” he said, “I want you to direct it.”
No, no… yes, yes. No I couldn’t… but you must. Until he said, “You don’t want to direct it because it’s not very good. And you want to shove it onto another director.” And he tossed the play across the desk at me.
Busted. I didn’t want my directorial debut spent developing my friend’s play which I didn’t love.
He continued, “Tell her that she’ll have to do a major re-write before we do it here.”
That’s a conversation I did not want to have with her. But, I did. She accused me of being the artistic director’s patsy. Not being supportive. That I’d set her up for failure. I apologized and said that I hadn’t set her up for failure. On and on, back and forth. Until, I got out of her car (it had stopped). We never really talked again.
The Way to Build Better Friend Connections
From what I have learned since then on how to build better friend connections, I would’ve should’ve could’ve approached this conversation in a whole new way, making it a positive experience for both of us.
Writing was my friend’s passion and the way she survived – her job. Our conversation threatened her talent, and therefore, her survival.
“Many studies now show that the brain equates social needs with survival; for example, being hungry and being ostracized activate similar neural responses,” David Rock, from “Managing with the Brain in Mind,” Oxford Leadership Journal (Dec. 2009)
First, I would talk to the Artistic Director and ask what we can do to get the play produced. I’d direct the play if he’d help supervise its development. I’d make that commitment.
Listen, Think, Respond for Better Friend Connections:
Listen – I invite her out to a neutral place for coffee and ask if she’d be willing to workshop it, develop and re-write it. Give her some choices, then listen without defending my position – no matter how upset she gets. Possibly suggest we both think about solutions.
Think – about what she said, understand why she’s disappointed, anger and hurt. Try to stay clear and focused on a solution. One exercise that helps me maintain clarity and not get into an “ego orgy” of who’s right or wrong, is to believe I’m mediating for two people I don’t know well. This allows me the distance to make a more informed solutions.
Respond – when I see her next time I listen to her ideas, then present mine. Trusting we’ll find a mutually beneficial solution. Even if we don’t, we’ve probably averted a nasty friend break up, and come out on the other side of our friendship.
And the next time, I listen, think, respond rather than jumping into promising a friend their dream, without reading the play first. And, being kinder in my responses as I truly want to build better friend connections.
Remember… a great friend starts with you!
Image courtesy: Photo courtesy of infomatique / flickr.com.
© Glenda Shaw_Superfriendgroups.com 2014
Please note: I hide specific and identifiable details in my friend stories as these stories are examples of behavior and not meant to hurt anyone. These stories are based on my opinion and perspective, except when the people written about are in the public domain. Any advice in this blog is from my insights, research and opinion only, and must not be considered as legal or medical advice.