Who Are Your S.A.F.E. People? (Part 1)

Group hugThe way we meet friends has changed in the last 15 to 20 years.  We used to build our relational circles of friends from those we encountered at work or school.  These days we can just as easily discover a friend online.  We form virtual communities that may consist of people we know from school or work, but also people we met online.  Increasingly, we are calling on our cyber friends for emotional support.

Video games are a big entry point for finding new friends. NBC’s Today Show aired a story about the “Big Fish Babes.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/36033819)  These ladies formed a “safe community” using the connection of online gaming.

Who is your safe person?

In our relationships, we are continually sizing up people to see who is safe and who is not.  We learn this through trial and error.  We’ve all been emotionally hurt in a relationship at some point in our life.  We’ve all been burned by being in an emotionally unsafe relationship.

On the positive side, we have some safe people in our lives.  We’ve learned that we can trust them with our thoughts and feelings.  We share our thoughts and opinions with them.  Then we risk a little more and share our feelings.  Over time, the relationship deepens.  We find the freedom to be ourselves in their presence.  We don’t have to pretend to be something that we are not.  We’re accepted as we are.  The genuine sharing of ourselves happens between us and our hearts are joined in friendship.  They are God’s gifts to us.

These kinds of people are very rare.  We may only have one or two during any given season or time in our life.

Here are two qualities of the safe people in our life.  In my next post, I’ll describe two more.

S. A. F. E. People:

S = Speak with their ears and eyes first.

One quality that sets the safe person apart for us is their willingness and ability to listen to us.  Really listen to us.  They give us the gift of their attention.

This is where communicating with friends only by text or email has its limitations.  We can’t always interpret the tone of the words correctly and it can lead to miscommunication.

It is difficult to become close friends with someone who talks too much and listens too little.

We’re not looking for world-class talkers as friends.  Someone who can talk a lot but who can’t shut up long enough to listen is a person we’ll have a hard time being close friends with.

Most of us are looking for a world-class listener.  We are hungry to be listened to.

People spend huge sums of money every week to have someone listen to them.  Why?  Because being listened to feels great.

World class listeners speak with their eyes and ears.  You can always tell a good listener.  They look at you when you are talking to them.  They are not staring off into space.  They are not looking over your shoulder, scanning the room.  Their focus is on you and you alone. Their listening sends a message that you are important and that you have something worth saying.

Eye contact and ear contact are two of the most important ways we connect with people.

A = are Attuned to our feelings before they speak.

Safe people are able to connect with us in such a way that they know what we are thinking and feeling.  They don’t judge us. They don’t advise us yet. They tune in to our world.

It’s all about empathy.  It’s the ability to sense how another feels.  Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, says, “People’s emotions are rarely put into words; far more often they are expressed through other cues.  The key to intuiting another’s feelings is in the ability to read nonverbal channels: tone of voice, gesture, facial expression and the like.” (Page 96)  Our safe people are able to tune in to our channels.

Acceptance.  Understanding. Empathy. These are rare and valuable qualities of the safe people in our life. We are blessed if we have friends like this.

As with most relational situations, the Golden Rule applies: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

What have safe people meant to you?

No Minors Allowed

We can’t drive in today’s traffic saturated world for very long before we are caught up in a fender bender. Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it’s another driver’s fault. I’ve spent some time at the vehicle body shop and collision repair center myself.

One day I was there to get my car examined after someone rear ended me. As I was waiting in the lobby for my ride, a man walks in wearing a t-shirt, blue jeans, cowboy boots and a baseball cap with flames. I have seen those flames before. Those were Harley flames. In the front middle of his cap is a Harley-Davidson logo.

He heads over to the counter to ask to speak to the insurance adjuster. The receptionist sends him across the lobby to a glass partitioned office where an adjuster is stationed. He rises to introduce himself to Harley Man. The adjustor says to him, “Let’s go take a look at it. Let me grab my camera so I can take some pictures. So you just have some minor damage on your Harley?” Awkward silence.

Harley Man gets a perturbed look on his face. He finally blurts, “There is no such thing as minor damage to a Harley.” In my personal conversations with Harley owners, I can verify the truth of his statement. Most Harley owners are protective of their bikes with good reason. They have a lot invested in them and there is nothing like a Harley.

His statement reminds me of another I’ve heard, “Minor surgery is when it’s on you; major surgery is when it’s on me.” It’s a humorous way of acknowledging our natural tendency to minimize the concerns of others while focusing on our own troubles.

Have you noticed that healthy relationships don’t distinguish between major and minor? One of the characteristics of fulfilling relationships is caring about what matters to the other person. One of the signs of a relationship in trouble is when we stop caring about the events in the other person’s life.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, there are indeed some events, circumstances and setbacks that are “minor.” When we stop caring, we lose the ability to discern the difference between major and minor. Pretty soon everything is minor and if we are in a relationship or friendship with a person who no longer cares, we feel unimportant because our concerns have been minimized.

Strong loving relationships have a tone that says, “If it is important to you, it is important to me. I will support you, listen to you and encourage you.” I’ve noticed that in successful relationships there is an unspoken but very visible rule. Here it is: “In our relationship, we will act as if there are no minors allowed.”

Who are the people in your relational world who treat your “minors” the same way they treat their “majors?” I’d love to hear who those people are for you.