As I said in my previous post, I spent a lot of time reflecting about improving relationships this past year. It started with this Twitter conversation I eavesdropped upon between my friend Jonathan and someone named Nav:
@wikichen Dude, how do you make CLOSE friends with people? Beyond the small-talk and how is your weekend crap? Been bothering me for time.— Nav Dhillon (@Navjotd) March 17, 2014
In response I essentially advised that if you open yourself up to others close friendships will naturally form. Ironically, I later met Nav in real life, and I did not follow my own advice.
In thinking more about why that happened, I’ve decided becoming friends is not as simple as the one step of just opening up… it’s actually 3 steps! Nav and I had failed at an earlier step and that’s why we’re not currently best friends forever. I’m sure in reality there’s much more involved, but then this post wouldn’t be able to go viral on BuzzFeed, would it?
Before I get into these steps that will change your life, you might ask what does it even mean to have close friends?
In my childhood, I had some friends whom I hung out with due to the convenience of proximity. We’d talk about schoolwork or play games together, and that was the extent of our friendship. With those friends, if I ever had an issue unrelated to gaming or school, I’d feel uncomfortable asking them for advice.
With my current friends, I can talk to them about anything and everything, even things like sex, or finance. I’d say that’s the difference that closeness brings. A close friend you can trust with personal matters. You can turn to them for help without feeling discomfort, and they’d be there for you. Meaningful friendships not only ameliorate bad situations, they also make good situations even better.
If you already have a close social group, you may think this guide won’t be of any use to you, but maybe this can help you get even closer! At the same time, it’s still good to make new friends. If we hang out solely with one group of people, over time groupthink develops and thought patterns converge. This is good in reducing social friction, but it means we become stagnant. New friends can provide different perspectives, challenge our beliefs, and lead us to discover new interests.
Developing and deepening friendships is a life long process and we can always get better at it. So without further ado, here’s my guide to friendshipping. If you’re in a situation to make a new friend, start at step 1. If you want to get closer to an old friend, you may be at step 2 or 3.
1. Get in the right mindset to converse
Some days you might not like yourself. Some days you can’t deal with other people. That’s all okay, it happens to the best of us. But in those times it’s probably not ideal for you to be making friends. Ideal conditions are when you’re feeling positive and are ready to talk.
Generally, people like positive energy. It’s infectious and it makes them feel better. Friends may put up with negativity, but why would someone you just met want to deal with that if they don’t have to? Maybe you can make it work regardless, but I find that when I’m feeling positive, it’s even easier on myself to try to meet people.
To be more positive, try smiling and laughing more. Also, the next time you have a complaint or you want to reject someone’s opinion, what if you just didn’t say anything? Or what if you phrase it in a way that’s more constructive?
If positivity is not your thing, at the bare minimum it’s necessary to get in a mood to talk. A core component in meeting someone is the conversation you share. That conversation could potentially lead into a friendship, so be mindful to actively partake.
How to get into the mood to talk may vary from person to person. Some people prefer bigger groups, while others prefer one on one interactions. Create an environment in which you’ll thrive the best. If you prefer one on one interactions and you meet someone in a group setting, try pulling them aside at some point, or invite them to something at a later time that doesn’t involve as many people.
This step is where Nav and I went wrong. We met at a networking event where I had already been drained from all the socializing, so when we spoke, I was not in the proper state and it was hard for us to hit it off.
If you find you’re often not in this mindset, don’t use it as an excuse to avoid meeting new people. Try to get yourself in the mindset. It can take practice. I personally find if I eat and sleep better, I’m more sociable.
2. Find conversation worth caring about
Surprisingly, not everyone shares the exact same interests as me. Conversation doesn’t work out when one person talks about something of interest to them, but the other person doesn’t care. When one or both sides don’t care, that’s where the “small talk and how is your weekend” occurs.
That isn’t to say that “small talk and how is your weekend” is indicative of lack of caring. Oftentimes they’re starting points for segueing into other subjects.
One way for both parties to care is to find common interests to talk about. Ask open ended questions to discover more about the person. Or if you’re being asked questions, try to respond with more than just one word answers. Every new piece of information given could potentially be a branch for another discussion. But try not to rapid-fire too many questions in a row; then it might seem like an interrogation.
If we can’t find common ground, another way is to try to take an interest in their interests. If I don’t know anything about the subject, it’s a good chance to learn something new about it! Making an effort to listen and genuinely care goes a long way.
If you can’t find a common interest, and even when you try to probe and learn more about theirs you find it’s not working out, then maybe it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you can’t seem to find that mutual attraction no matter what. Maybe that means the other party didn’t achieve step 1, or they’re just not interested in you. That happens. It sucks, but don’t let it stop you from trying to connect with other people! Remember, both sides have to care. As long as you try your hardest to hold up your end, that’s the most that you can do.
3. Open up
As I originally hypothesized, I still think this is the most important step. But you can only get to here once you’ve done the other two and you’ve already established a friendship. That may take some time and might not happen in your first interactions. If you open up to someone you just met, they may use what they learn against you, or they might just think you’re crazy.
Common interests fuel conversation, which is what creates friendships, but trust is what creates meaningful friendships. Building trust involves sharing things about yourself beyond just your interests - your feelings, personal matters in your life, etc.
Feeling insecure? Talk about it! Having relationship issues? That’s a good topic! Opening up definitely shouldn’t only consist of discussing problems though (remember the thing about positivity?). Talking about aspirations and dreams is also great. And you may find that when you open up, the other person does too!
When I spoke to my friend David about this, he provided some wise insights:
Although it may be a little uncomfortable initially to touch on these things — there’s sort of an activation energy — there’s a lot of therapeutic value from just confiding in someone/people in general. And in return, you get lots of interesting insight and perspectives from your friends. You feel closer to someone because you feel like they’re a part of you now — they carry some of your stories. They’re also more inclined to share some of their lives, and you realize that, well, everyone makes mistakes and everyone goes through some of the things/insecurities that you do.
There’s a misconception that sharing your feelings is a sign of weakness. I daresay it’s a sign of strength. It means you’re not afraid of putting yourself out there. Even though there’s always the chance that you could get hurt, you’re willing to take that risk to connect emotionally with others.
And that’s it! Get in the right mindset to begin forming a friendship. Find conversation (interests) that you can both care about to become friends. Then open up to bring that friendship to the next level.
As a warning, you may find that following the previous steps over time will make you feel happier. If you’ve already followed them, then you should now have a new best friend. Congratulations!
Joking aside, I do hope these steps help you to build more meaningful friendships. Let me know if you think the process can be improved, or if the steps work for you!