Making friends is a skill, and being a good friend is something we must work on. Throughout our lives, we learn how to be good friends. From elementary school through adulthood, we bond with different people. And we figure out how to keep those bonds. Many find that creating a friendship begins with having something in common. But keeping the friendship is the hard part. No matter if you’re trying to find good friends or be a good friend, here are four things you can do to make and keep good friendships.
Listening is a skill that we all develop from a young age. But learning to actively listen makes us better friends.
Active listening is putting all the attention and focus on the speaker. You let the speaker explain their situation. You show that you’re listening by making eye contact and nodding. You ask follow-up questions to show that you’re paying attention and curious to know more. Sometimes, you repeat what they said to make sure you’re understanding the problem, story, or information.
Passive listening is when someone doesn’t provide feedback. Or doesn’t ask questions to understand the speaker’s message. You’ll know someone is passively listening if they say, “Oh, sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.” Or “Sorry, I didn’t hear a thing you said for the past 5 minutes”. This can make the speaker feel unheard or like what they were saying wasn’t important.
One way to practice active listening is before a friend starts venting, try asking, “Do you need advice, or do you just want me to listen?”. This will help you listen actively throughout the conversation.
A good friend is someone who respects others’ boundaries and comfort. And they don’t attempt to force others past them. They may question your reasoning, but they will never pressure or judge you. In life, it’s great to have friends who challenge us and encourage us to get out of our comfort zones. But a boundary is a boundary. And a good friend will respect you and your decisions.
For example, you don’t like to go on rollercoasters, but others keep pushing you to go on one. They may claim “you’re not fun or you’re boring” because you don’t want to ride one. A good friend may ask if you want to go on a rollercoaster and then will accept “no” as an answer. They may ask why, but will accept the answer you give them. A good friend is someone who respects boundaries because they aren’t trying to push others into something they don’t want to do.
Leaving the past in the past
A good friend will never use a difficult time or bad decision as ammunition against a speaker when in a fight. They won’t use your past against you to make you feel angry, upset, or disrespected. Yes, there will be times in a friendship when there are disagreements, arguments, and hurt feelings. But if you are honest and explain your thoughts, reasons, and feelings, you both may be able to reach common ground and move forward.
During the lockdown of the pandemic, I would see photos and posts online of acquaintances having weekly Zoom meetups with friends. Or mentioning the good deeds, their friends would do–like dropping off groceries or meeting up in parking lots, 6 feet apart, to catch up. I found myself growing angry. Why had none of my friends reached out to me and asked how I was doing? Or offered Zoom meetups, especially during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement? I grew resentful. And when I confronted one of my friends, they pointed out that they didn’t know that’s what I wanted as I never told them.
Having clear and open communication will make your friendships stronger and more trusting. This means being open about your wants, needs, frustrations, disappointments, triumphs, and failures. For example, if a friend tells a joke that hurts your feelings, then open communication means letting them know they hurt you. Other examples of open communication include calling each other out on bad decisions and respecting when you change your mind about hanging out. If you and your friends can truly be honest about your feelings and know it’s safe to do so, that’s how you know you are and you have good friends.
Being a good friend is something that we all can learn to do. Though sometimes it isn’t easy. People are constantly evolving and changing. And your friendship may feel different as friends go through big life transitions or difficult experiences. But that old saying “treat others how you want to be treated” is still true. And will help you become a good friend to others and to yourself.
Making friends is good for our mental health, but it can be difficult. Sometimes symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety or depression can be isolating. And this makes it hard to make and maintain friends. If you think your mental health might be affecting your ability to make good friendships, consider taking a mental health test.