New people, new chances! So I started a new job at a big engineering firm. From day one I try to connect with everyone I meet. Confident that all encounters will go well. Hopefully, I can make a few new friends among my colleagues. Like all the awesome people I befriended at my last job.
As we have lunch, slurping some cheap goulash soup, I try to go to a deeper level. But my newfound lunchmates were reluctant, rather discussing the weather. The weather?!? Fuck that!
Only then I realize, I don’t know any of these people, not really, nor do they know me.
Despite being surrounded by people, I felt lonely.
How do you go from only knowing people to being friends? It’s not as easy as I thought. I start remembering the long arduous process of befriending my former colleagues. Shit that’s true, that did take a long time. Or any of my other friends, all gradual processes. Fun though!
Colleagues are one example. But going from acquaintances to friends is ambiguous. Often we don’t know how to take superficial contact further to deep friendship. Especially as we get older.
Playground socializing is so easy compared to when adulting. As a four-year-old, you throw sand at some kid, say sorry, share a popsicle. Boom, 5 minute friendship.
A nice four-step process worth of a BuzzFeed article. But why isn’t it that easy as adults? It would be nice if you could go up to people and say: “Hey let’s be friends”. Then hang out and do fun stuff! But that somehow never works,…
Even in your late twenties and thirties, there are fewer opportunities for friendship. It even takes longer to create them.
But no matter what age, we all need friends.
It is nice to be invited by people you feel comfortable with. To connect and spill your heart. But as you struggle to make new friends, it can feel like you are destined to be forever alone.
There are many people having this problem. It is widespread in modern society. In the UK for example, 2.5 million men don’t have any close friends. It sucks. Loneliness hurts and is detrimental to our health!
A world of anxiety and suffering.
Thanks, so now what?
It is time to act! Time to build profound friendships! How to deepen relationships!
You are deeply shaped by your social environment. It is part of you.
We are wired for friendships.
If your social life is good, you feel good! It is the greatest factor in longevity. Hanging out with buddies, laughing, bonding, supporting each other. It is awesome and helps you live up to a 100 years.
So, you don’t have many friends yet? Don’t despair! You can make friends all your life! Developing the skill to do so at any time. But let’s start now!
Friendships don’t spontaneously arise out of thin air. They take time to mold. Effort! A long, but often fun-filled process.
If you hear “friendship”, you might imagine a one-dimensional connection. But a bond between people exists of many strings. Shared experiences, similar believes, enjoyment of company, shared goals. You name it.
Many connections make up a strong bond. If you know someone a bit, you have a few small connections. To create a friendship, you need to strengthen and expand your mesh of connectivity.
So how do you create new connections?
You reach out and be open to others.
Psychologist John Gottman explained this for marriage, in the form of “emotional bids”. It applies to friendships as well.
A “bid” is a request, an invitation to connect. The reaching out. This can be a smile, a question, or an invitation to go gaming. You reach out, if people are open to it and accept, you create a small connection. Another thread in the bond of friends.
And vice versa – if people reach out, be open and accept!
Stop doing this and friendship erodes. Like a physical structure – time and the elements will wear it down.
In the beginning of a friendship, don’t overreach with the scale of your bids, you might scare people off. Even if you mean well, don’t offer to help someone move apartments if you know them for 2 weeks, that is overreaching. People are taken aback by the level of intimacy that is assumed.
Take it easy, and build from small to big. From a smile, to having drinks, to playings sports, to in the end being someone’s best man!
By offering and accepting small connections your create a cycle of increasing trust. Forming a deep friendship. But someone needs to give the first push. It’s hard, but you need to take initiative!
‘So, step by step, with increasing impact, and on my own initiative?’
‘What does that mean? Can you give me a plan?’
Yes! Yes, you can! It won’t be your 5-step guide or 5-year strategy plan. But a detailed look at what behavior it takes. A toolkit of strategies and behavior, to go from just knowing someone to a deep friendship.
1. Put away your screens of distraction
It is old skool, but establishing a connection doesn’t need fancy hardware. If you meet people in the real world your phone is a distraction. Especially when talking one-on-one. So put away your devices. Silent mode and out of sight.
Yes, you will have that hand jerk reaching for your phone. But resist temptation, especially if things get tense, boring or awkward – that is the time to pay attention! These rough spots are where you really get to know each other. You need to be there in the moment, not bailing to happy-joy-joy-digital-wonderland.
Focus on the people in front of you!
A phone on the table, even top-down, already distracts people. You are constantly aware of potential interruption. Any moment it could ring, so you never are fully invested in the ongoing activity. It shows you are not interested in the person in front of you! How can you make friends that way?
It’s against your impulses – but do this to truly connect. So bye bye phone.
2. Eye to an eye – Look people in the face
It is important to look at people while communicating. Especially focus on face and eyes.
A lot of people find this hard. But expressions show how people feel and what they think. It is intuitive. The skill comes more natural to some, but it is how you develop the finer details of social skills.
Everybody can learn this.
What and how you communicate affects people. If you only type and send, you will never truly know what the effect is. It is scary if you are inexperienced because you have a lot of inner reactions. Fear, anxiety, insecurity. Most come from ambiguity. You don’t understand how someone reacts because you don’t get their expressions.
So practice will make it easier! Start looking people in the eyes, so you can start understanding – on a cognitive and an intuitive level. Understanding will create more comfortable dialogue.
Most expression and their meaning are hard-wired anyway – you will catch up. The rest you learn on the job. As you get better you’ll relax, in turn others feel more at ease – and the upward cycle starts.
3. Show genuine interest
Show real interest. Interest from the depth of your heart. Is someone not interesting to you, maybe reconsider making him your friend.
Assuming this is someone you already know a bit. You can guess what she is interested in. If not! That is the first thing to find out. What are her hopes and dreams? What do they do for fun? But more importantly, ask people WHY?
Go deep you want to find out why they like water skiing. Because she’s been on the water since she was 5? Or her parents never let her do anything exciting? You don’t know – find out! These type of bids are great for shared emotional connection.
Don’t stop with one why-question, ask a few in a row. But learn when people don’t want to answer anymore. Might be your connection doesn’t merit that level of trust (yet!).
People love talking about themselves. It makes them feel good and you get to understand them better.
An extra little trick to make people feel good – use their name in conversation. People adore the sound of their own name, their whole identity is wrapped around that word. If you can use that magic word in a positive way. Awesome!
(Don’t be the fool who overdoes this, people notice!)
As you ask, give plenty of attention to people (remember no phone). Listen well, so you can use stories and facts as anchor points for next time you meet. Displaying your lasting interest.
Afterwards, don’t forget to reach out once in a while. Send a text with a small update on your part, and some interest in them. Have they finally finished dark souls? How are their exams going? You name it. Show that you’ve listened and reach out with a bid.
4. Ooze out positivity
Next element, positivity. Starting with a smile. The easiest disarming gesture. It can mean so many things: “It’s ok” – “I’m enjoying this” – “ha!”, you name it.
Cracking that smile to connect is hella useful.
Being upbeat is important. Nobody wants to hang out with an emotional black hole sucking up all energy. Neither do you! So don’t be the one who is negative all the time.
Bring your upbeat self!
Don’t drag your annoyances and sorrows with you. You may have them, they may be real, but as you are making friends, leave them at home! Building a friendship is mostly fun. Don’t be that guy who is addicted to his negative emotions!
Need to get yourself in that positive vibe? Do what always helps you, go for a run, play video games, or do something artistic. Whatever gets you out of that funk. Trust me, regular workouts help!
If you are unable to get out of a chronic negative mindset. Whatever the reason, find a way to fix that first.
It’s pretty hard to make new friends if you feel depressed. The irony might be, that you feel better if you have friends. But find your healthy positive self on your own first.
You are probably a great guy!
So get your shit in check and bring all of your awesome self! The world is eager to meet that great side of you!
5. Touchdown – high fives and more
Humans don’t only communicate verbally. A major part is touching as well. What does that mean? You can start shaking hands, high fiving, bro-fisting, hugging and kissing everybody!
Alright, do it with at the right time! Build the right level of connection first.
Hookup culture teaches to go for the touch. Strangely, it is also a good step in building friendships, just a different kind of touch. In some western countries, we can be a bit clinical about it. But it is simple. Raise your hand for that high five, or hover your fist in the air. Boom! Connect!
Touch creates intimacy.
Learn as you go what is the right move with whom. It is different in every culture and kinda bond you create. But most of the time a handshake or high five will do the trick. As you get to know your new mate better, a good tight hug can come in.
It does take some practice to find out when what intimacy is appropriate. But we often err too much on the safe side. Learn to go with your guts and conviction.
6. Sharing is caring
Yes, Sesame Street was not some crazy socialist paradise. These critters, for all their singing and dancing, got their basic principles right! Amongst them the power of sharing.
Sharing is bonding.
Most primal is the act of sharing food. A profoundly human gesture. It may not feel like much in times of affluence, but for most of history, people were lacking ample food. Sharing with a stranger to befriend, is sharing something valuable. Something you need to survive yourself. So a very powerful gesture!
But you can share more. Loan someone a pen, share your couch to crash on, let someone use your car. More ways to open up, more bids to connect. Also notice when others share with you, how you feel deep appreciation.
Besides that, there is a strong feeling of reciprocity. You give, so I give. This is a deep-seated instinct to reciprocate giving. That is the type of collaboration that makes us survive as a group.
Besides items, you should share stories. To share and relate on an emotional level. What funny or interesting experience did you have? Or what have others experienced? What did they do? Share how you relate to their stories. How they made you think or feel. Ask more, then go on and tell your own experience about that (or similar) subject.
There is much to share and connect over.
7. Show vulnerability and relate
Segwaying nicely into sharing your feelings. Sharing items and stories already display vulnerability. But over time take it a notch further.
Ideally, you have built up a bit of trust. But the most confident people show vulnerability easily. Because they know it creates deeper bonds. Despite their flaws, they feel secure about themselves.
The illusion that you have to be brave, though and cool – and not vulnerable limits our ability to connect. You throw up walls instead of building bridges. Being brave and afraid can coexist. Showing your fear can be a profoundly brave act.
This opening up is a profound way of showing trust in the other! By giving trust you gain trust.
It is scary of course, there is an inherent risk. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, the trust comes later. But it can backfire. If you are not used to this, create an initial steady bond first. But later deepen it by sharing more of who you really are.
Being vulnerable is something else than being needy. Being needy is showing weakness and expecting something in return. Comforting, a favor, pity,… you name it. Being vulnerable is showing weakness and accepting it. Not expecting anything in return, you show who you are underneath societal masks.
Believe me, showing vulnerability can take any form: explaining your feelings, talking what porn you fap to, admitting you actually liked Jar Jar Binks (gutsy!).
Also, share gratitude together. Tell people you appreciate them being there, how you like hanging out. That drinking beer and eating pizza is better with them around. Tell them about that positive vibe you guys are building.
That doesn’t have to be sappy, a good: “Bro, that was an awesome day!” will do!
8. Experiences shit together
So there is reminiscing about events. But an even better way is to create a shared experience. A good shared story is a topic to talk about for years. To keep reinvigorating that bond.
But hanging out also counts. Regularly go do stuff together to make new friends!
So start having tea, play sports or do a weekly DnD session. Go build a fort together, visit a concert and have fun. Live those experiences together.
Want to go to the next level. The very best bonding is sharing hardship together. Doing though shit and a bit of suffering goes a long way. Shared pain brings people together. Go for a 3-day hike or collaborate on a competitive hackathon.
Frustration, pain, conflict but coming out on top together!
9. Always under maintenance!
So if you followed most of the advice, you have built a deep friendship! Awesome, congrats. Now you gotta keep it up. Make sure you keep doing these things.
Regularly meet up, share and do shit together. And show some vulnerability from time to time.
Every friendship needs different level of maintenance. Don’t forget your buddies and keep up to date! Don’t rest on your laurels, keep repeating all of the above.
Learn to be considerate as well. When it’s someone’s birthday, come by with a bottle of wine. But also at random moments, just initiate to hang out. A friendship will be driven by your new buddy and you. And hey, in some friendships you will take most of the initiative, some you will take the least.
For this, you can use your digital tools. Occasionally send updates and an open question to see how others are doing.
- “Hey, I was busy with this and that”
- “How are things on your end?”
Keep doing that and you will make friends for life!
How to friend?
So, easy right? Haha, like anything, this too will take practice. It sounds simple. But there is a lot of social nuance in real life. For some people it comes more natural. But with enough practice, you can make and deepen friendships just as easily!
Take this guide, but don’t overthink this. These aspects are important. But don’t checklist them and tick them off compulsively. It’s a toolkit – it is your challenge to find out with whom and when to use what tool.
So sure you will make a few mistakes, everybody does. But that doesn’t matter, it is a learning process. (The number of birthdays I have forgotten, despite Facebook warnings haha.)
Don’t try to rush it. Realize making friendships takes time. Think weeks to months instead of days. Especially when you grow older. It takes years to forge deep bonds!
So what are you going to do?
You have an acquaintance you want to deepen your bond with? Someone loosely affiliated with? Next time you see them, or give them a call/text right away and suggest you guys go hang out together.
Have some drinks, watch a movie, build a castle! Take your toolset along and build something cool.