I was doing some work at a coffee shop the other day and at one point I suddenly had the urge to look over at a table about 10 feet away. An old Chinese man was looking at the screen saver on my laptop, then he looked at me as he smiled and nodded. So naturally I smiled an nodded back (even though I had no clue why he was smiling and nodding! haha). Then I looked at my screen and saw that I had “Friend” and “Kaizen” written in Kanji (Japanese characters, but similar to Chinese characters) as my screen saver. These four characters (two each) have two very important meanings in my life: Friend is my last name and Kaizen is the philosophy of continuous improvement that I try to live by.
But to this man it must have sparked something because the next thing I knew I looked up and saw him standing over me. “Do you know what mean?” he asked in the best English he could as he pointed at the screen. Before I could say I did, he said, “continue to improve friendship.” He smiled and nodded once again, then he walked out.
To me these two symbols have been meaning two separate things for a long time, and now all of a sudden a huge epiphany was selflessly handed to me by an old Chinese man who barely spoke English. I am constantly in awe of life. This man could have easily just walked out of that door without trying to struggle through his limited English vocabulary, but instead he wanted to teach me something.
It caused me to realize that I haven’t been continuously improving my friendships lately. I’ve been working about 80 hours a week because of a second job at nights and weekends (excuse) and trying to keep this blog and SocialGoodToday.com running (another excuse), so my time has been dedicated to things other than friendships. But guess what, my friends don’t know that. All they know is that they haven’t heard from me in a long time.
So, how does someone who’s really busy continue to improve their friendships?
Here are some suggestions for you if you find yourself in a similar situation…or if you have a friend who is in a similar situation. Friendships are two-way communication highways and sometimes one direction has more traffic than the other. It’s important to do what we can to stay connected.
This one may sound funny, but it’s what my friend Steve and I have been doing for a couple of months now. We never seem to catch each other when we call, so we’ve been leaving voicemails. Steve is one of my oldest friends, one of those rare “friends for a lifetime” type of friends, so it’s really important to me to keep in communication with him. We’ve been leaving funny voicemails, telling jokes, continuing old jokes, talking in funny accents or characters, and overall just trying to have fun with the fact that we can never reach each other. We’re not actually talking live much, but it’s honestly keeping the friendship going. It sounds weird, but it works.
Almost everyone has a cellphone, and most people have text messaging. Although some things can get lost in translation, texting is still a form of communication – and it can be done on the go. If you’re at a red light, sitting in the rest room, waiting at the airport, waiting in line at the grocery store, or any other temporary break in time, shoot a friend a quick text. Let them know that you’re thinking about them, and miss them. Ask how they’re doing, catch up a bit. Some people think it’s rude to have conversations over text, so be aware of your friend’s preferences. If your friend is cool with it, go for it. At least you’re communicating, and it keeps you connected. One thing that I really like to do is take pictures of things that remind me of that person, then text them with the picture attached and write a little message about it.
**If you have a smartphone, there’s a new app out called “Hey Tell” and it allows you to text voice messages. This can be fun because it’s a mix between voicemail and text. I’ve sent friends quick messages, or songs that remind me of them, and it helps to have that person’s voice coming through the phone. Check it out here: www.HeyTell.com
Email takes a bit longer, but then again you can save a draft and come back to it as often as you’d like until it’s ready to send out. If you get email on your phone, it’s even easier. Email is great though because you can say so much more than you can with a text, or series of texts. You can also attach several pictures to keep your friends updated with what’s going on with you and your family. People love photos, and they also love to know that you’re thinking of them. They’re a little more time-intensive, but they make a big impact.
Play Games (online or smartphone)
One of the hottest games on the market right now is Words With Friends, and it’s available on both the iphone and Android operating systems. It’s a scrabble game that also allows you to send messages to each other. This may be one of the most impersonal avenues, but it has a funny way of keeping you connected to that other person. There are many games like chess, checkers and other two player games on smartphones and online (like yahoo). Give it a shot, I think you’ll be surprised at how fun it is!
This is probably the most common form of keeping up on friendships these days. Facebook has made it possible to email, share photos, chat, and comment on everything under the sun with your friends. If you’re not on Facebook, get on there, you’re missing out on some great connections. You can also keep up with everyone on the go if you have a smartphone. Take a picture of something and share it, let people know what you’re up to, or check out what the latest is with your friends while you’re on the move.
It seems as if we’re moving away from actual conversations these days. Yes, if you’re really busy it will be difficult for a long conversation to catch up, but if you have a 15 minute drive ahead of you, why not reach out to a friend that you’ve been trying to connect with? Phone conversations don’t have to be long, just let them know that you have a few minutes and wanted to catch up on what’s been going on with them. They’ll be thrilled that you called, even if only for a few minutes.
Friendships are really important in life. They keep us going, they allow us to fall and to fail and still stay afloat, and they give us a chance to give selflessly to other people. If you’re really busy, please remember that your friends may not know that, or may miss you even if they do know it. It only takes a few seconds to take a picture and send it, or shoot a quick text to remind that person that you’re thinking of them.
Do you have any other tips that would help? Please share them in the comments section below.