I’ll never forget that day. I woke up and realized I was alone. At this point in my life, I was single, which wasn’t the type of “alone” I was talking about. I realized I didn’t have friends. From my late teens and into my early twenties, strong friendships were lacking in my life. One Saturday morning as I was eating breakfast, I realized that I was lonely. I knew this needed to change, but I had no idea how to make friends.
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“How to Build Stronger Friendships”
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Thankfully, I went from no idea how to build strong friendships to now having many extremely close friends in my life. Disclaimer, I just summarized years of my life into a single sentence. It does take time, but I will explain how I went from no friends to having an abundance of strong friendships that I consider to be lifelong connections.
Perhaps you’re not like I was. Maybe you already have friends in your life, but you just want to strengthen them.
The effects of strong friendship on your life:
Today, I can tell you that the strong friendships I have developed in my life have been one of the primary joys in my life. Much of where I am today, I owe to the people that have become my close friends. (Here’s the friendship that completely changed my life.)
My inspiration for writing this post came from a time of self-reflection on the friendships in my life. So get this, I’m writing this post because of the impact that friendships have had on my life. I’m writing about friendships because of friendships!
Why is the topic of friendship so important right now?
First off, over the past ten years, the idea of friendship has been under attack. Thanks to social media (which does have positives) we’re more connected than ever before, while at the same time, more alone than ever before. Social media has made us less focused on authentic relationships and more worried about our total number of digital acquaintances.
True friendship cannot be formed through social media. The first step in developing stronger friendships is grasping this principle. We need to understand this – and agree with it.
Connecting face to face with another human being is, and will always be, stronger than any WiFi or 5G connection.
In addition, most of the world has been forced into this mindset as the COVID-19 global pandemic quarantining set a new standard for loneliness into motion. Thankfully, in-person friendships can be built and developed once again.
The best places to meet people to build friendships with:
I am a huge proponent of meeting people at church. But, that’s the #2 best place to meet friends. The #1 best place to make new friends is in church small groups. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or not, and it doesn’t matter if that small group opens the Bible or is playing a sport. Trust me, it’s the best place on earth to meet friends. If you’re not a Christian, that’s perfectly fine. Small groups are for making friends, not forcing you into Christianity. If I were to add a #3 best place to meet people, I would say any focus group that is on a topic that interests you would be a good option as well.
The ultimate key to meeting people and building life long friendships:
There is one thing that stands out among all else when it comes to meeting people and building friendships. That one thing is the ability to get out of your comfort zone. I hear this all the time, “Alex, I am trying to make more friends, but people don’t talk to me.” My response is always the same, “Well, did you try talking to someone first?”
I’ll admit, it’s uncomfortable. But, what good thing has ever come out of you staying in your comfort zone?
Here’s another perspective; what do you have to lose when stepping out and talking to someone? Nothing! Maybe a few seconds of awkward silence, then you move on. It’s nothing compared to stepping out of your comfort zone in the business world where you could lose years of your life and millions of dollars. We need to keep meeting people and building friendships in perspective; there isn’t much risk involved. So my advice and ultimate key is this: GO FOR IT.
This brings me to my first point, to have friends, you need to be a friend first. Or another way to put this, seek to be a friend.
#1. Seek first to be a friend.
Put others above yourself. To have friends, you must first be a friend. Ask yourself this, “What value am I bringing to this person’s life?” Don’t be quick to dump your problems on others, listen to theirs first. Don’t wait for people to reach out to you to spend time together; you be the initiator. Be proactive even if someone else never returns the favor.
Related Post: How to Love People More and Judge Them Less
Get into the mindset that friendship is always about someone else, never yourself. Do for others what you wish they would do for you. By doing this, you’ll quickly develop a deep level of trust with those you are seeking friendship with.
My second point flows out of this first point of being a friend first. And it is this:
#2. Become a great conversationalist.
As an interview podcast host, I’ve developed my ability to ask powerful questions and become a great listener. Being a great conversationalist flows from these two things:
- Ask great questions.
- Listen to understand, not to respond.
Becoming a great conversationalist does not happen overnight. It takes years of practice. This is something that I have spent a lot of time working on in my own life; I’ll share what I’ve learned on the topic. (Here’s a post that dives deep into listening: Listening Could Lead to Positive Change in Your Life)
- Be aware of how much you are speaking. Want to have better conversations? Stop talking so much! Make the conversation about someone else, not yourself.
- Ask quality questions and provide positive feedback that shows you’re listening. Don’t just nod while waiting for your turn to talk. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
- Listen with your heart. Seek to put yourself in someone else’s situation and to understand what is going on in their lives. Smile when they are happy about something even if you’re not having a good day. Seek to understand, then to be understood.
- Do not act like you have all the answers! No one likes a know-it-all. Sometimes people just need to talk out what they’re going through without receiving feedback.
My third point is directly queued by listening to understand.
#3. Be an encouragement.
If you want to build stronger friendships in your life, get this point. Encouragement is a catalyst for change in your life and in someone else’s life. I encourage you to read this post for more on the topic, 4 steps to positively impacting people around you.
Here’s why this point flows straight from listening to understand. If you’re really listening, you will be able to hear the passion and excitement in their voices. Much of what people say is filler words, no one enjoys silence. If you can pick up on the things that they are passionate about and most excited about, you can encourage them in those things.
This is important for two reasons:
First, being an encouragement is the single greatest thing you can do to energize people when you are around them. Encouragement changes the atmosphere. It doesn’t matter what kind of day someone is having; a little encouragement will brighten anyone’s day. Always focus on being an encouragement to those around you!
Second, the people you encourage are going to want to talk to you more often. It truly is the secret sauce to building stronger friendships. You will be remembered by people you encourage, and they will seek you out next time they are in the same room as you.
My next point for building stronger friendships is the least popular. However, it’s the most important.
#4. Getting past face value communication.
Everyone likes to have fun. You probably want stronger friendships in your life because you want to have more fun. People normally want to skip this point, but it’s easily the most important when developing what I would consider to be true friendship.
Face value conversations are the fun ones, and the majority of them will always be this. However, getting deep on a regular basis is what develops trust and interdependence in a friendship. You have to be willing to ask deep questions about life, past, and future.
Here’s an example: I was recently in a conversation with a friend and I had the opportunity to take it past face value. I asked the question, “Does your parents’ divorce still bother you?” then some follow up questions included, “How did your siblings take it?” and “You seem to be the strongest, that’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it?”
By the end of that conversation, my friend told me this; “Thank you so much for letting me talk about that. It felt really good to actually share that because I have never talked about it before.”
At that moment, our friendship grew because our level of trust and understanding of one another grew!
Disclaimer: Don’t try to make every conversation a deep, past face value opportunity; there is a time and a place for these. You’ll freak people out if you go too intense on a regular basis. (I personally struggle with this one!)
Alright, you made it through everyone’s least favorite part! Now on to my final point, and this is easily the most important when it comes to building lifelong friendships. This is the single greatest thing you can do if you want a friendship to last forever.
#5. Do something meaningful together.
Meaningful experiences turn into lifelong memories. This could be playing on a sports team together, going on a mission’s trip together, or being part of a church small group together. Really, anything you do together that would be a memorable moment of your life is when and where friendships begin to grow and strengthen.
In my life, strong friendships have been formed through serving at church together, and through multiple city outreaches to help people. But the main environment that I have developed the strongest friendships in has always been church small groups. Even if you’re not a Christian, church small groups are the place to be to build strong friendships!
The more frequently you can do something meaningful together will keep the friendship growing, and over time, you’ll just realize, this is going to be a lifelong friendship full of excitement and adventure together.
If I can leave you with one final perspective about meeting people, building lifelong friendships, it would be this:
Developing stronger friendships is a journey and learning experience for you. You’re always going to be growing and changing. Your very definition of friendship is going to change over the years as you personally change. Trust the journey that you’re on. Be willing to let go of the friendships that are no longer healthy and always be searching for more friendships to develop.