Being a friend right now is harder than usual, if you ask me. Not only are we unable to physically connect and hug our friends like some of us need most right now, it might also be hard to emotionally connect. Meaningful relationships always take work, but this is a new kind of work. Usually in friendships, you have a nice array of mindsets and stability that even each other out, bringing much needed balance and perspective to help each other through the harder to navigate seasons. These days, we are collectively having big emotions, hard days, ups and downs that we can hardly understand ourselves. We don’t exactly know what we need right now, and we aren’t really sure what we have to give. Our mindsets are unpredictable, and how we’ve shown up for people in the past may not be appropriate now. It can feel unsettling when the friendships we’ve relied so heavily on in the past to support us are now unfamiliar. Everything about what is going on right now is unfamiliar, including our own selves. Conversations matter more than ever right now. Connection, friendship, and empathy can slip during times of uncertainty, yet it’s what we may be craving the most. These conversations – our relationships – can be the catalyst to our own comfort and healing. When I got certified in Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations model in 2014, I learned a concept from her that has deeply impacted me since. “The conversation is the relationship. Every conversation we have is an opportunity to enrich the relationship. Without the conversations, there is no relationship.”If we continue to focus on what’s in our control during a time like this, let’s include the investments we make in our friendships. Let’s include being thoughtful about the conversations we’re having with the people we care so much about. Even when, especially when, we’re feeling this vulnerable. Below is a quick checklist to keep in mind as you enrich your relationships during a season of vulnerability.

Check yourself. Before connecting with a friend, make sure you’re in the right headspace for the conversation. If you do this and you realize you aren’t, that’s OK. The pause you just created for yourself may have just saved you a conversation you wish could take back, or do again. Take care of your needs, and your head before you get on that zoom call, hit the FaceTime button, or shoot off that Marco Polo.

Recalibrate. It’s a different a time, one we’ve never lived through before. Now that your head is on straight, and you’ve taken care of yourself, take a deep breath, and remind yourself you’re in un-chartered territory. Proceed with caution.

Remove expectations. If you’re used to a certain kind of support, or response from this person, it’s important you remove all expectations of them before connecting. We know now that what was is no longer. You might see an emotion from them you haven’t seen before. By removing any expectations you might have on them, and of yourself before the conversation, you might find you are ready to listen and engage more genuinely. This can be one of the best things we can offer our friends right now.

Find common ground, and quickly. You’re both in a weird place right now, that’s for sure. You might be doing OK today, while your friend might be struggling hard. Try your best to find comfort together on some common ground. Your versions of discomfort right now aren’t harder, easier, or better than the other’s. They just are, and the sooner you can just hear and acknowledge it’s a weird season for both of you, the more enriching and authentic the conversation will be. Pain, loss, sadness, frustration, and struggle are felt so uniquely. They aren’t competitors, but they can feel like it if we allow them to be.

Communicate your intentions. It’s hard to remain sensitive and empathic in your usual way right now. If you’re feeling misunderstood, or challenged to support in the way your friend might be familiar with, you may find it helpful to over-communicate your intent. A quick trick to help might sound like “I am feeling like I’m not able to support you right now how I’d like to. My intent isn’t to be insensitive. I’m finding it hard to support my friends while simultaneously going through my own range of emotions.” Often times, intention stating can feel a lot like setting expectations or creating new boundaries. This is a good thing.

Give what you can. Be realistic with yourself and what you can give to others right now. Your energy distribution looks a lot differently than it did, even just one week ago. What you have to offer is enough, especially when it’s given intentionally and authentically.

Try these out if you are finding it hard to connect right now. Prioritizing energy is hugely important as we navigate this season. Give yourself permission to protect it. It’s also a really good reminder to invest in the relationships that offer you something in return. Pass the energy baton back and forth in your conversations, and use the time to refuel. Emptying your tank is probably not the best use of your gas. Yet, pooling your tanks together right now could get you right where you need to be.