I recently had this conversation with someone who I unfollowed among many others in my network. I was a little shocked by the kind of message this person exchanged with me almost accusing me of insensitivity and a general lack of empathy. In fact, before unfollowing people I had put out a message to all those about the reasons. I had mentioned that while I meant no offense, the fact that I am unable to respond or engage with them socially and was not doing justice, what with a deluge of posts on my timeline.
I thought I must be able to spend quality time engaging with people and having a large network was only hindering the process. It was slowly turning into a one way communication with posts and forwards and I realized that even the ‘likes’ which I was giving to their posts was just me being ‘friendly’.
I realized that most of the follows are just plain reciprocal follows with people only trying to be ‘friendly’. They couldn’t be called ‘friends’ as most people tend to refer – ‘Facebook friend’, ‘LinkedIn friend’, twitter ‘friend’ and so on. Even I have been guilty of calling them that, while they are only friendly social acquaintance.
This triggered in me the thought “are we mixing up or confused about ‘friendship’ and being ‘friendly’?”. I think I was and so do many. I thought it will help us to focus more on quality of engagement than mere increasing the size of our social network.
“Unsubscribe and it’s all part of a plan. Unfollow and everyone loses their mind”
I like to believe there’s a huge difference between someone who is a friend and someone who is just a friendly social acquaintance. I think most of us like to believe that we’re ‘friends’ with the people we follow and who follow us back but are we?
Of course there are no hard and fast rules of networking on social networks. If you want to follow over 10000 people – that’s great. Each one knows what’s best for themselves. My only problem was when you refer to them as ‘friends’. Again, this is my personal opinion as much as you are entitled to yours. But there’s a big difference between being social with someone, and actually being their friend.
When you are polite, approachable and are willing to spend time with someone if it suits your needs; then you are friendly. You don’t necessarily have to like the person. You are courteous to the person and are willing to engage so as to not make them feel bad. You engage in small talk which keeps the conversation going in the short-term. You also engage in stock messages like for example in today’s time, when you ask a person whether they are staying safe or to stay at home, it only shows that you are friendly. Very similar to the “how are you?” question during normal times. It’s just that it is polite but you are not into the person much.
Someone who is friendly will have an excuse for being scarce in their interactions, especially during tough times. They don’t like to be the bad guy in telling you that you are wrong or break the bad news for you. They are people who just want to be nice. More importantly it is all about them and not you.
On the other hand a ‘friend’ is someone who you like to build a relationship. They are people with whom you would like to spend time with. A friend is not just there during good times but when the times are tough you are there for each other. They will have your back and be prepared to defend you when others are unfair to you. They will also have the courage to tell you the truth when you are wrong. They take the risk of giving you critical feedback.
A friend is also someone who you can confide and trust. They give you compassion than advice. A friend is someone who understands that they have no claim over your time and appreciate the moments they get to spend with you. They do not have expect anything in return but understand that you will be there for them when in need and return the favor when you can.
Today when the boundaries have disappeared cause of social interactions turning digital, we tend to think that everyone is and should be our friend. However, that really isn’t realistic. What makes friends special is that they bring something to your life which friendlies can’t offer you. You can’t give your time, attention and energy to everyone. It is therefore important that you assess who your friends are such that you can spend your precious time, energy and attention with them. This will ensure that you have relationships which really add value to your life and hep you become the best version of you.
I am not suggesting that you must ignore or dislike everyone else. You can always choose to be friendly with them. It will also help you to be comfortable with the fact that you can be ‘unfollowed’ by someone. You will learn to respect the use of ‘likes’; ‘comments’; and ‘networking’ on social media. Learning the difference will make a significant difference in the way you network and in your life.
Making a bad choice on whether you are ‘friends’ or ‘friendly’ with someone can have serious consequences to your emotional health.
How then do you identify a ‘friend’?
There are some ways in which you can identify a ‘friend’ especially on social media and differentiate them from the ‘friendly’. Here are a few which I can think of and it is not limited to just these. You can think of adding more based on the criteria we discussed earlier.
- Encourages you to speak up more
- Asks questions to understand you more
- Is not quick to offer advice
- Is comfortable disagreeing with you
- Tells you if you are wrong
- Helps you find resources to augment your learning
- Takes time to reply to your posts
- Willing to engage in a conversation to deepen learning
- Provides feedback when they ‘like’ a post you have shared
- Does not have ‘expectations’ of a reciprocal response. “I followed you so you follow me”; or “I endorsed you for a skill and can you do that for me as well?”
- Cares to send you a ‘thank you note’ when you accept their friend request
- Does not judge you by your ‘posts’, ‘profile’ or ‘qualifications’
- They are all about ‘you’ and not about ‘them’ in conversations
I am in no way telling you that ‘being friendly’ is not a great idea. In fact it is the way you start building up your ‘friendship’. When we understand the difference we know how to sustain a relationship either way.