10 essential skills for building great friendships

Building great friendshipsOur social networks are vital to our well-being.   Research suggests that people with large social networks may outlive loners by as much as 22%, and that cancer patients with good support from social networks have much higher rates of remission.   From a social psychology standpoint, studies have shown the importance of our friendships and social networks on our worldview, our self-esteem, and overall mental well-being.

So it’s important to have friends.  But friendship is a two way street.  It takes effort, patience, and understanding to develop solid, support friendships.  Here are some tips for building friendships that last.

Know when to give advice, and when to just listen.  This one is tough.  When a friend is in need, we often want to rush right in and “fix” whatever problem he or she is having.  Bad move.

Many times when people (including friends) are sharing their problems they are simply wanting to be heard.  They want somebody to empathize with them.  Often times the last thing they want is advice, or someone to solve their problems for them.

When we just jump in and start solving problems, we inadvertently communicate to our friends that we do not have faith in them to solve their own problems.  While our intentions may be good, it is usually best to just listen, and provide advice only if asked.

If you are unsure about whether your friend wants your help, or just want to be heard it’s ok to ask.

Take the lead… sometimes.  As I mentioned above friendship is a two way street.  Sometimes you lead, and sometimes you follow.  As a general rule, if you are doing all the work – initiating all the plans to get together, making all the suggestions on what to do, are always the one to pick up the phone first, etc. – then you may be in one way friendship.

It could be that you are just more proactive than your friend (some of us just aren’t wired to be initiators), or it could be that either you are being overbearing or your friend just isn’t all that into you.  So not need to over react, just think about it and maybe find a way to talk about it with your friend to make sure you know what is going on.

Don’t be a “one upsman”

There are few things that are more annoying than a “one upsman.”  You know, the guy who always has a better story than you.  If you flew a kite over the weekend, he flew the space shuttle… if you tell a story about a bicycle accident, he tells one about a plane crash…

Don’t be that guy!

Be available (even when you aren’t)

Friendship takes work.  (Did I say that already?)  And while we are all busy in our hyper-busy worlds, we need to answer the bell when a friend in need calls on us.  That does not mean trash your own life, but it does mean that you make time for friends.  Sure, you can skip out on a night out or two if your dissertation is due this month, or bail on that trip to Vegas if you have daddy duty, but if you consistently are a no show, then you will probably stop getting invited.

Oh!  And if your friend is having a significant emotional event, it’s really bad form to be an emotional no show.  Bottom line is, be there for your friends and they will be there for you.

Remember the big things

Taking an interest in your friend’s life is a part of being a good friend.  You should know things about each other, and care.  Nothing says “I’m a crap friend” as much as not remembering important things… like the name of your friend’s kids or wife, for example.  Or not showing up for his wedding, even when you agreed to be the Man of Honor.

So take an interest, remember, and participate in the important moments in your friend’s life.

Remember the “smaller” things

There are big things, like your friend’s wedding.  Then there are smaller things, like your friend’s dog’s birthday.  While your friend may not really care that you remember these details, he or she will surely be impressed when you do!

(A note about “big” and “smaller” things:  I just had a discussion with a friend about the definition of what is a “big” and what is a “smaller” thing.  To him, remembering his anniversary date is a big thing – apparently I shouldn’t schedule Vegas trips or ski trips in Vail on this date.  But remembering his birthday – not so important since he lives in NYC and I’m in Denver we never really celebrate it together.  The point is, it doesn’t really matter what you think is important or not, it matters that you recognize what your friend thinks is important or not, and honor that).

Be fun to be around

We all have our ups and downs.  We all go through rough patches.  And that’s ok.  A good friend can deal with that, and support you when you are down.  But, if you are a constant downer, if you moan about everything, if you are generally a negative person, you will have much more difficulty in finding and keeping good friends.

So lighten up and have some fun with your friends.  Be a source of positive energy.

Help a brother out!

Just as you need support from your friends sometimes, so do your friends.  They may need you to be there for them for big events, like a divorce, or a death of a loved one,  or if they get laid off from their job.  Again, don’t problem solve unless they ask you to.  Just be there to support them; e.g. –listed to them and empathize.

A friend may also need your help for other things as well.  Whenever you can be there… be there.  If your friend needs you to help him move a couch, and you are able to move a couch, help him out!  Just remember to maintain appropriate boundaries… healthy friendships stay healthy when friends maintain their boundaries.

Be uplifting

One of the reasons having good friends is so beneficial to our well-being is the support they give us, and the way they make us feel.  So be kind to your friends.  Act and say things that make them feel better about themselves.  Show them respect.  If you do these things and are genuine, your friendships will grow, and respect and kindness will flow your way as well.

Keep it real

Your friends are not perfect.  Don’t be afraid to waive them off when they are about to do something stupid, or when they are acting stupid.  One sign of a solid friendship is being able to be honest.  But there are different ways to do so, and it’s a two way street.  When you are keeping it real with a friend, be truthful and direct, but be tactful and ensure you are doing it in a constructive way.  Likewise, be willing to accept the same from your friends.

Honesty in any relationship is important, and being able to offer and accept constructive feedback from friends not only makes the friendship stronger, but may also be a great help to your or your friend.

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