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How can you make a friendship last? What are the qualities of a long-lasting friendship?
Many friendships come and go, but some friendships last for a lifetime. Like a romantic relationship, friendships require a lot of work from both parties. However, if you’re willing to put the work in, you will have a loyal and dependable friend for a long time.
Below you’ll learn how to make meaningful friendships, and how to maintain those friendships for life.
The Benefits of Making Long-Lasting Friendships
Before getting into how to make long-lasting friends, let’s look at the benefits of having friends that last a lifetime. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin says that making new friends throughout your life is important for several reasons—they provide you with greater feelings of connection, they offer new sources of support, and they can introduce you to new perspectives and interests.
Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, says that in contrast to relationships with family members, it’s easier to enjoy friendships because you’re able to choose friends who have similar goals and interests—your friends affirm your current goals. People report their most positive moods with friends and tend to associate friendships with adventure and excitement.
Friendship can be a flow-producing experience because it’s one of the only relationships in which you can fully express yourself. With your family, you may have to fit a certain role, such as being respectful to your parents, or if you’re a parent, providing care to your children. At work, your behavior may be expected to reflect your role. In contrast, with friends, you can show your true self because your goals are similar.
How to Make Long-Lasting Friendships
Making friends is easier said than done. First, you have to strike up a conversation, then make a special connection. Thankfully, all you really have to do is learn the art of conversation so you can show people you’re interested in getting to know them. We’ve gathered a few techniques that will help you form long-lasting friendships by just talking to them.
Introduce Yourself and Break the Ice
Before you can start a conversation with a potential friend, you have to find someone to have that conversation with. When choosing someone to talk to, The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine recommends the following two-step process:
1. Scan the room and find someone who’s on their own, who’s not engaged in a conversation or an activity, and who makes eye contact with you.
2. When you make eye contact, smile at the person. Fine explains that this shows the other party you’re interested in them and immediately establishes a rapport. When you smile at someone, their natural response is to smile back; right off the bat, the two of you share a positive feeling.
Additionally, Fine explains how to properly introduce yourself and break the ice to begin a long-lasting friendship.
How to Introduce Yourself and Learn Their Name
Once you’ve chosen a conversational partner and established rapport through a smile, walk up to them, make eye contact, smile again, and shake their hand.
Say, “Hi. My name is…” Then, stay focused as the other person returns the introduction. Remember their name and use it immediately: For instance, say “Nice to meet you, Albert!” If you miss a person’s name, Fine recommends asking them to repeat it. Remember that everyone has the right to be called by their name and that those with difficult names will appreciate it.
How to Break the Ice
The first step in starting a conversation, Fine explains, is to break the ice. According to Fine, it doesn’t matter much what you say as an opener; in theory, you could say anything. What matters is that you initiate the conversation and show genuine interest in the other person’s answer. Her recommendation, if you’re having trouble, is to open with a statement that uses the context of the situation, event, or venue, and then ask them a related question.
If you’re afraid to talk to someone because you fear you’ll have nothing in common, Fine suggests you keep in mind that humans are more alike than they are different. If you give other people a chance, she says, you’ll find you can connect with almost anyone.
How to Show Genuine Interest in Someone
As said before, when talking to someone you want to be friends with, you must show you have a genuine interest in them. Here are a few tactics for showing someone you care about them and their interests, as recommended in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie:
- Ask people about their background and their goals.
- Remember the problems people are having. When you come across a solution, share it with the person.
- Go out of your way to talk to people who are “beneath your level”—employees who don’t report to you, or service people.
- For people “above your level,” express a genuine interest in them, their work, and their advice. They feel important when they can pass on the secrets of their success.
- When traveling, attempt to speak their language. Try to understand their world instead of being a tourist.
- Remember birthdays and act on them.
- Greet people with animation and enthusiasm. On the phone, if you know who’s calling, greet them warmly, not with a cold “hello?”
- It must be sincere.
- [Start from the perspective that everyone is better than you at something and that it is worth finding out what that is to better yourself.]
Appear Approachable and Likable
In How to Talk to Anyone, Leil Lowndes argues that in Western society, people instinctively know how to distinguish between nonverbal “I like you” signals and “Get away from me” signals. People gravitate toward those who appear to like them. Therefore, you can appear more approachable by becoming conscious of the signals your body language is sending and making sure they’re saying, “I like you.”
Lowndes decodes this silent language and explains how to create a positive impression through the following four techniques.
Technique #1: Stand Tall
According to Lowndes, people interpret poor posture as an unwelcoming signal. Slouching implies that you’re insecure or ashamed and don’t want to be approached.
On the other hand, people interpret good posture as a welcoming signal because it implies that you’re proud and confident and have nothing to hide. This tricks them into assuming that you’re an accomplished person who deserves their attention.
Technique #2: Relax and Remove Physical Barriers
Lowndes claims that people interpret fidgeting and guarded movements as insincerity because they make you look suspicious and defensive:
- Fidgety movements, such as shuffling your feet or touching your face, come across as signs of discomfort, tension, or distraction.
- Guarded movements, such as folding your arms or clutching something in front of your body, also convey discomfort. Additionally, they give the impression that you’re placing barriers between yourself and other people.
On the other hand, Lowndes argues, people interpret a relaxed and open stance as a sign of an honest and welcoming personality because it signals that you’re calm, unafraid of appearing vulnerable (because you have nothing to hide), and approachable. To come across as calm, self-assured, and trustworthy, practice keeping your arms loosely by your sides with your palms and wrists faced upwards. If you’re approached by people you want to talk to, turn your body totally towards them to show them they’ve got your full attention—this implies that you’re happy to be in their company and puts them at ease.
Technique #3: Delay Your Smiles and Maintain Eye Contact
According to Lowndes, people don’t respond warmly to quick, instinctive smiles because they interpret them as impersonal—they assume that you’re flashing that smile at anyone you come across. This impels them to respond in kind, by acting detached or distant.
Another behavior that puts people off, Lowndes argues, is a lack of eye contact. Others interpret it as a sign that you’re either distracted or uncomfortable, and this makes it difficult for them to form an emotional connection with you.
To get a warm response, Lowndes suggests that you avoid your instinct to flash a quick smile at anyone you meet. Instead, look the recipient in the eyes, pause briefly, and then let out a big warm smile while maintaining eye contact. The delay will convince recipients that you’re smiling just for them and they’ll instantly feel like you’re happy to meet them. As you continue your conversation, attempt to maintain a comfortable amount of eye contact to convince them that you’re interested in what they have to say.
Technique #4: Pretend You’re Already Close Friends
Lowndes suggests a way to automatically trick your body into sending positive signals: Pretend that you’re already close friends with the people you want to talk to. She argues that you only feel—and broadcast—discomfort when you’re feeling unsure about how others will respond to you. However, when you imagine that you’re already close friends, you remove this uncertainty and automatically feel more relaxed and comfortable around others.
According to Lowndes, pretending to like others feels so good that it eventually turns into genuine affection. While you’re initially only pretending to like them, you’re sending signals that put them at ease—encouraging them to like you and respond warmly to you. This makes you want to like them, resulting in a genuinely comfortable and enjoyable interaction.
Be an Active Listener
Active listening is an important skill to facilitate effective communication and ingratiate yourself with others. It’s an ongoing process in which you listen fully to the speaker’s message and validate their words by giving visual and verbal feedback. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield covers the benefits of active listening:
- Understanding people on a deeper level. Asking questions helps you learn about people’s dreams and fears.
- Building trust. Showing an interest in people’s lives and providing the space to share it creates trust.
- Gaining popularity. People tend to like those who take an interest in them. Doing so will increase your popularity.
- Reducing your stress. When you focus more on others’ interests, you think about your own troubles less, which can reduce stress.
How to Listen Actively
Three components make you a better listener, according to Debra Fine’s The Fine Art of Small Talk—you’ll make others feel heard, so they’ll actively seek you out for conversation, company, and support. Let’s look at each component in detail so you can build a long-lasting friendship.
Give Your Partner Visual Cues
Fine explains that when you listen to someone, you should use your body language to communicate your interest and engagement. Here’s how:
1. Act as if there were no distractions in the room. Fine suggests you face your partner openly and directly and smile.
2. Nod, make eye contact, and stay focused on the speaker. If you have trouble maintaining eye contact, Fine suggests you look at the space between their eyes instead of directly at them; your partner won’t be able to tell the difference.
3. Be aware of what your body language implies. Don’t cross your arms and legs, place your hands on your hips, or rest your chin in your hand. Don’t fidget or keep your head down. Fine notes that these signs are typically interpreted as implying boredom, disinterest, disagreement, or hostility.
Give Your Partner Verbal Cues
Verbal cues, Fine explains, add to the reassurance provided by visual cues. Verbally indicating that you’re present and aware encourages your partner to keep speaking.
Fine notes that you can use verbal cues to show you understand, agree, disagree, or want to hear more. For example, you can say: “Hmm, I see…” “What makes you feel that way?”
You can also use verbal cues to transition to another topic. For example, you can say: “That reminds me: I’ve heard that… What do you think about that?” or “Since you’re an engineer, I wonder if you could explain…”
One helpful verbal cue is to paraphrase and repeat, the author suggests. This technique lets you clarify that you understood the other person correctly, or helps them recognize where you misunderstood what they were trying to say.
Here are some common ways to paraphrase and repeat:
- “Wait, you mean he actually said that he doesn’t care what you think?”
- “So, it’s the left outlet you want me to plug it into?”
- “Sir, I just want to be sure: You’re asking me to order seven thousand copies?”
The Mental Component of Listening
Finally, remember that giving visual and verbal cues that suggest you’re listening isn’t enough: You have to actually listen, too. Listening is your job in the conversation, Fine argues, and it isn’t optional.
How to Keep Long-Lasting Friendships
You previously learned tools for starting new friendships. In this section, we’ll teach you how to maintain long-lasting friendships by keeping new and old friends feeling valued and happy.
Make Others Feel Good About Themselves
In their book The Like Switch, most of Jack Schafer and Marvin Karlins’s advice for maintaining long-lasting friendships can be broken down into one simple rule: People like people who increase their sense of self-worth. If you do things for a person that contribute to their positive sense of self, they’ll associate good feelings with your presence, and they’ll want to be around you more.
There are many ways to make people feel good about themselves, and the authors outline several tried and tested methods.
Empathic responding is a type of communication that requires you to first notice how someone feels; then, speak to them in a way that shows you recognize the deeper emotional meaning behind their words and behaviors. The authors assert that responding to a friend empathically puts them at the center of the conversation, helping them feel understood and cared for.
Let’s look at an example. Say you have dinner plans with a friend. When she arrives at the restaurant, she’s clearly stressed about something. After you greet each other, you could respond empathically to her behavior by saying, “Looks like you had a long day.” This demonstrates that you recognize her stress signals and that you want to know more.
She tells you that she got in trouble with her boss today for missing a project deadline, but it wasn’t her fault. Your empathic response could be, “You’re frustrated because you got blamed for something that you couldn’t control.” With this response, you’re paraphrasing the basics of her situation, and you’re assigning a feeling to it (frustration) based on her reaction to the situation she presented. As this example demonstrates, empathic responding keeps the conversation going while validating and centering your friend’s experiences and emotions.
The authors note that compliments can be a great tool in a long-lasting friendship. They make people feel good about themselves by pointing out qualities you value in them and celebrating their achievements. However, compliments can often come off as insincere, especially when you don’t know a person very well. When used ineffectively, compliments may be mistaken for flattery, which suggests you want something in return for your kind words.
Schafer and Karlins offer a couple of workarounds that allow you to compliment people without them assuming you have an ulterior motive. First, you can send a compliment through a middle person. This involves complimenting your friend to someone you both know (someone who will tell your friend what you said). Your friend will still hear the nice thing you said about them, but it won’t seem artificial because it isn’t coming directly from you.
Second, you can make someone feel good by helping them to compliment themselves. Instead of paying a friend a direct compliment, make more generalized statements that highlight positive characteristics your friend can then realize they have.
For example, if a friend wears an outfit you like, a direct compliment might be, “That’s a really nice outfit. You have good fashion sense.” To instead help your friend compliment herself, you could say, “It takes an artistic eye to put such a fashionable outfit together.” In the second option, you’re setting your friend up to think, “Yes, I do have an artistic eye for fashion.” She compliments herself by applying the characteristics you identified—an artistic sensibility related to fashion sense—to her situation.
According to Schafer and Karlin, people readily take chances to self-compliment. Additionally, when the compliment is technically coming from themselves, people won’t assume insincerity.
Ask for Favors (But Not Too Many)
The authors argue that asking a friend for a small favor makes them feel helpful and contributes to their positive sense of self. They’ll associate these good feelings with you and like you more.
For example, you might ask a friend if you can borrow their copy of a book you’ve discussed. It’s a small ask, but fulfilling it could make your friend feel charitable, increase their sense of importance, and show that you care about your shared interests.
It’s important not to ask for too much, though. If people think that you’re trying to take advantage of them, those good feelings can sour quickly.
Make an Effort to Maintain the Friendship
Flow asserts that for long-lasting friendships to be enjoyable, you have to find new challenges to work on together. Intimate friendships are much more likely to provide these experiences. For example, working to understand each other’s uniqueness can be enjoyable. You have to share yourself, and pay attention to them when they do the same.
Note: You’ll have more enjoyable experiences with friends who challenge you and help you grow than with casual friends. If your friends affirm you without questioning you at all, it won’t be as enjoyable. For example, regularly going out with drinking buddies and shooting darts or playing cards might be a pleasurable way to affirm your identity and ward off loneliness, but it won’t bring the same enjoyment that more complex, growth-producing activities do. With drinking buddies, you can participate in the group’s banter and joking, but a lot of the dialogue is predictable and doesn’t produce flow like a more original conversation would.
Developing meaningful friendships takes effort. In childhood and adolescence, when you have ample free time, finding friends can feel easy compared to having to do it as an adult. Many adults express nostalgia for the friends they had growing up but fell out of contact with. You can still find meaningful friendships; just put in the same effort you do with other flow experiences.
The work of maintaining friendships is easily pushed aside in the context of everyday life. Make an effort to stay in touch and show up for your friends. Here’s what The Happiness Project recommends:
- To better keep in touch, come up with a plan to contact friends more regularly. You might call one each Saturday afternoon, or set a few dates in your calendar as “check-in” days.
- Showing up looks like visiting your friend after they have a baby, or going to friends’ events. Showing up for important moments in others’ lives naturally strengthens your bonds with them.
Be Personal With Your Friends
To have a close friendship, you need to be personal with them and get to know them on a deeper level. One way to do this is to open up to them about your dreams, hopes, or any negative feelings. By opening up to others, you invite them to engage and involve themselves with you. Your vulnerability creates mutual trust between both of you, which is the foundation of any friendship. Difficult Conversations has advice for opening up to people about your personal life.
It’ll be hard to express your feelings in a conversation because you must negotiate your feelings with the other person. The goal is to describe your feelings carefully and specifically. Being emotional isn’t the same as sharing your emotions—you can be externally emotional without expressing anything clearly at all.
How to Express Feelings
Here are three guidelines for expressing feelings in a difficult conversation:
1. Introduce feelings back into the conversation. Remember that feelings are important. They don’t need to be rational to be expressed—but they do need to be expressed to be dealt with. Get them out first, then decide what to do with them.
2. Express the full spectrum of what you’re feeling. Because we’re often feeling positives alongside negatives, this can change the nature of the conversation, bring some complexity to the matter, and allow the other person to understand you as well as their own impact better.
3. Share first, then evaluate. Evaluating your feelings too soon or allowing the other person to evaluate your feelings too soon will short-circuit the conversation by qualifying or judging the emotional content before it’s been expressed. Both parties should get to share their pure feelings (remember: feelings, not judgments) first—then you can problem-solve together later.
Long-lasting friendships are one-of-a-kind and should be treated as such. These friends are the ones that will stand by you through the lowest points in your life, and vice-versa. If you put the work in to maintain a strong bond with your friends, then nothing can get in between you.
Do you have a long-lasting friendship? If so, leave in the comments below your advice for having relationships that stand the test of time.
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