By Nancy Keeley, Interaction Practitioner
It is well documented that friendship has a powerful impact on our health and well-being. A good friendship improves our mood; reduces stress and depression, motivates us, provides joy and boosts our own self-worth. Indeed, it is fair to say that friendship is a basic human need, without which we suffer from isolation, loneliness and possible mental and physical ill health.
So, let’s think about our own friends? Why are they our friends? When meeting someone for the first time we will often try to find some ‘common ground’. Perhaps we share a similar hobby, have similar life experiences, have a similar sense of humour etc….. We subconsciously mirror each other’s body language, nod and reaffirm words to show that we are listening and to increase the connection between us. All people are unique and this makes for interesting and diverse social experiences, enriching our lives with new thoughts and ideas. In addition, when we feel understood by a person, feel like they ‘get’ us, we form a deeper connection and this results in increased confidence and self-expression. Over time the friendship becomes a reciprocal and trusting relationship, each person balancing their own needs with that of their friend; listening, expressing, helping, requesting, learning, teaching, laughing…..
Now imagine that you find it very difficult to understand other people, that their sounds have little meaning for you, that you don’t fully understand their body language, gestures and expressions. In addition, other people find it difficult to understand you! Without the ability to speak their language you are unable to explain your idiosyncrasies. Perhaps you rock and bang walls to increase your body sensations and spatial awareness. Perhaps you recoil from touch because your skin is hypersensitive. Perhaps you shout to block out a noisy and confusing environment, after all you know that your own sounds are safe. On top of this you may be struggling with high levels of anxiety and/or depression. You fundamentally want and need to make friends but find it difficult to do so; it’s very difficult to find any ‘common ground’.
Intensive Interaction offers an opportunity for everyone to make friends, irrespective of communication differences and seemingly confusing mannerisms. Generally, our social experiences and conventional communication methods give us the ability and confidence to initiate an interaction with someone who may find sociability challenging. We start by showing that we are interested and want to make a connection – open body posture and facial expression. We give time and attention – listening, observing, pausing (it’s rude to interrupt!). We mirror body language and expressions, echo and embellish vocalisations to make a conversation and to show that we are listening. We show an interest in what they like to do and allow them to lead the interaction. We ‘tune in’ to empathetically reflect mood and energy levels. Effectively, we convey that we want to be friends, that we want to understand and find ‘common ground’. Over time trust, mutual enjoyment and an understanding of one another develops so that self-expression and other fundamental communication skills can be explored. In addition, a balanced, respectful and reciprocal friendship grows full of listening, expressing, helping, requesting, learning, teaching, laughing!
I have made many friends over the years. They are wonderfully unconventional, diverse and life enhancing in a multitude of ways. Some of the characteristics (‘common ground’) they share include honesty, authenticity and resilience – I am very lucky!