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Are You Sending Your Friends Mixed Signals?

By Andrew Burgon / phoenix@projectfellowship.com
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March 11, 2015

mixed signals friendship
Image by kennedy (beaker)/ CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
 

Sending Friends Mixed Signals is One of the Reasons They Suddenly Go Quiet or Bail Out of a Friendship

It may be beneficial sometimes to consider whether or not we are sending friends mixed signals unintentionally. That is, how we feel about a friend and what we say may not be congruent with our actions. For example, we may tell a close friend we value their friendship but treat them to long icy bouts of silence. We may cause them to feel that we far prefer the company of other friends. Worst of all they may come to the conclusion that our friendship is just a ghost of what it once was and there is no point hanging around any longer. I call these mixed signals.

My aim is simply to encourage people to be more mindful of the signals they are sending their friends. Friends they may genuinely care about and want to remain in contact with. It also helps shed some light on why friends suddenly and mysteriously change and quickly fade out of our lives.

Before I start let’s keep in mind that there are all kinds of factors that contribute to how mixed signals impact a friendship.

If a friend has been struggling friendship-wise and is often depressed because of it mixed signals are going to be amplified.

If a friend already has more than enough close friends and little social time he may be more likely to pass on a friendship that is giving him mixed signals.

Friends who are fervent-hearted and sensitive may give up on friends who are very passive and show no initiative.

Let’s first have a look at a few examples. Then I’m going to quickly list some other mixed signals. Have a think about whether you are sending similar mixed signals to a friend of yours.

#1. Bottom of the Totem Pole

Rex is a bubbly and enthusiatic kind of person. He geniunely thinks of Alex as his friend and enjoys his company.

Every Sunday they go to fly remote control airplanes with another friend of theirs, Steven. It becomes apparent to Alex that Rex and Steven are bosom buddies.

Alex notices that if Steven can’t make it Rex doesn’t want to go either and calls Alex to cancel the meet-up. Yet he will still go if Alex can’t make it.

They also happen to attend another social group together. Rex lights up like a 100 watt light bulb when he’s with certain friends in the group. When he’s with Alex the warmth and enthusiasm is noticably less.

Alex expresses an interest in meeting up with Rex regularly now that they no longer fly airplanes together. Rex agrees to it but makes no effort to meet up with Alex.

When Rex moves out of town he makes a special effort now-and-then to meet with Steven and with other select friends who live fairly close to Alex. Yet when Alex suggests they meet up Rex says it’s too far to come. Alex is also aware of this.

Alex doesn’t particularly enjoy feeling as though he’s at the bottom of a totem pole. This as well as a few other things causes him to bail out of the friendship.

Rex has noticed a change in Alex and scratches his head wondering why. He wants the friendship to continue.

#2. Chronic passiveness

Sarah hasn’t seen Jane in three years. They accidentally bump into each other at a coffee shop and start talking.

Jane fondly talks about the great gourmet dinner parties Sarah used to hold and the fun times they had. She talks about it as though they were the golden days.

Sarah is amused by her friend’s words. If they were such good times why doesn’t Jane raise her little pinky to get in touch? In truth she hasn’t seen Jane in three years because at the time she grew tired of friendships that are continually dependent on her initiative to survive.

She left the ball in Jane’s court at her feet and walked away. Jane had managed to overlook it for three years just as Sarah knew she would.

Sarah assures Jane that she needn’t talk about them as the golden days. That they can do it again anytime. Sarah doesn’t make any plans though right there and then. She leaves it to Jane to follow her up on the offer.

Several months later Jane continues to remain deathly quiet. Her reputation in their relationship for sitting on her hands is well deserved.

#3. Depression

Depression can throw a wrench in the works of friendship. People tend to withdraw when feeling depressed.

Michael admires Tom a lot and would love to spend more time around him. He invites Tom to his parties, events and to meet up one-on-one.

However, things get to a point where Michael feels as though maybe he should scale back on his initiative. Tom seems to far prefer the company of other friends and seldom takes any initiative.

He gets the strong feeling that his friend is persistently sailing out to sea and off the edge of his life.

He eventually gives up on the friendship and sure enough he doesn’t hear from his friend for a long time. What he doesn’t know though is that a lingering depression Tom has is partly responsible for his ghostly friendship. Tom does actually value Michael’s friendship.

Below is a list of some of the other mixed signals that can occur in a friendship.

* Hot and Cold
You enthusiastically convince someone to join you on regular photographic trips. You then become cold and distant because you’re too busy every time the friend brings up the subject.

* Poor Response
When friends you have encouraged to keep in contact message you on facebook you sometimes respond poorly. You don’t bother answering a question your friend left on your wall. You also seemingly ignore a message they sent you about a particular thing. When you do answer one of their questions your short and abrupt. when they reply to what you have said you simply don’t respond. Some friends get the impression you’re very busy and their message is more of an annoyance and an inconvenience.

* Anemic Friendship Efforts
You fail to really connect with people because your friendship efforts are too anemic. Friendships cannot subsist well on ‘likes’ and ‘invites’ alone.

* Activity Buddy Only
We become good friends with someone but the moment we stop doing the activity that brought us together the friendship goes down what feels like several notches. This can be a rude and upsetting awakening for the friend who is as constant as the sun and desires very much for the friendship to continue. If not handled correctly it may be detrimental to the friendship.

There is no obligation, of course, to remain close friends.  Many friendships are for a season. That’s their nature. However, the dilemma is when a friend decodes your silence to mean, “I’m only your friend if we play tennis together. Capeesh?” A little initiative and thoughtfulness goes a long way in this situation.

* Words are Cheap
You tell someone how much you appreciate his or her friendship but they would never know it based on your actions.

* Scant to No Attention
You work so hard to get several paintings done in time for the art show. You let some of your friends know many of which either don’t bother responding or pay it scant attention. Some people need to learn to be a little more encouraging and supportive.

* Not Invited
You had a big birthday party or wedding. Some of your friends who value your friendship but weren’t invited find out about it.

* Support Offered But Not Given
Your friend is working on something that is important and urgent to her. You offer your help but never get around to doing so.

* Not Visiting a Close Friend
You visit your hometown for over a week after an absence of two years. A close friend who finds out about your visit after you leave is wondering why you never bothered to get in touch.

* Friend Dumping
You use to hang out with a particular friend then you suddenly start hanging out with other friends instead. Your rapid distancing from this friend has caused them to feel dumped.

* Guilt Shut Down
You did or said something that causes a dark cloud of guilt to hang over a friendship. It causes you to go quiet. You fail to resolve the issue. It only makes things worse.

A number of these situations could easily have been avoided by exercising a little initiative thoughtfully. Rex inviting Alex out for dinner to impress upon him that he values the friendship. Jane taking the initiative to contact Sarah and get the ball rolling for another gourmet meal dinner.

So, have a think about whether you are sending friends mixed signals unintentionally.  Do you make your close friends feel as though, “Well, I guess that’s it!” Consider for a moment the meaning of,  “Action Speaks Louder than Words” in the context of your friendships.

Can you think of any other things to add to, “Are You Sending Your Friends Mixed Signals?”

 
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