How to be a better friend
Even if you have a lot of friends, it doesn't mean that you may be a good one. In this article, we explore what qualities make a good friend and steps you can take to become one.
Over the years, I've come to realise that out of all the 'friends' I've made over the course of my life, those that I can truly consider as my 'close' friends can be counted on one hand.
That's not really a bad thing, but what's striking to me is the realisation that we make less and less friends as we grow older, which makes it all the more important to cherish the ones we form in our younger years.
What does it mean to be a 'close' friend?
It's hard to pinpoint an exact definition for this, especially with the vastly different social and cultural stimuli that we are exposed to; but I found this explanation to be the most fitting:
"The term 'close friend' can be understood as somebody who you can talk to about everything, who makes you feel comfortable without fear of judgement." - Source
Simple as it sounds, finding someone that you can feel that level of comfort with takes a certain mix of vulnerability, trust, and commitment from both parties. And whether that connection can sustain through your different life stages - work, starting families, different countries etc - that's the true test of friendship.
Shouldn't friendships come naturally?
To a certain extent, yes. The initial gravitation towards one another shouldn't be forced. However, the fact is - like relationships, strong friendships take consistent effort to maintain.
I know people in their late 40s/50s who were so caught up with their other priorities in life that they now have zero people they can call close friends. And the irony is that they have more free time, yet no one to share their recreational time with, apart from their partners. That may be fine with some, but personally not for me.
Point is, taking small steps to connect with your friends everyday can prevent such a scenario from happening when you are older. It doesn't have to be your main priority, but being consciously aware of your actions is definitely important to maintain the friendship in the long run.
5 Tips to be a better friend
1. Build the foundation
Dr. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, has pinpointed 5 fundamental qualities through his research that are key to building strong relationships. CARRP for short:
- Consistency: Are you always there for them when they need you?
- Availability: Do you make time for them?
- Reliability: Can they count on you for something?
- Responsiveness: Do you reply them on time or initiate conversations?
- Predictability: Do your friends always have to wonder if you are still 'you'?
Once these 5 elements are present, it creates a safe and secure environment for both parties to be vulnerable and form a deeper connection in other ways.
In fact, even if you don't have all the CARRP qualities in you, having a friend like that can help you feel more secure and safe to reciprocate these qualities.
“It’s like having a relationship coach built into the relationship,” (or friendship in this case) Levine said. “They’re so good at it, they walk you through a lot of potential pitfalls and teach you to become more secure.”
2. Connect on a deeper level
Have you ever felt so much more closer to someone after they've shared a deeply personal story with you? The same logic applies when forging close friendships - there has to be some deeper conversations beyond having surface level talk in order to truly connect with each other.
This process involves trust and vulnerability, which is why having a strong CARRP foundation is key to building a safe environment for such conversations to even happen.
Here are 10 questions you can ask, from our honest card game series - 'For Friends':
Find out more about the game here.
3. Remember to check-in on each other
There are certain nuances you can pick up to tell if your friend is feeling down about something - being quiet, unmotivated, sleeping more than usual, posting or reposting negative stuff on social media etc. Essentially, if they feel 'off' from their usual selves.
Take notice of such instances and offer support to them. They may or may not open up to you with their worries, but reassure them that you will be there if they need you.
Be present for one another not just in times of happiness, but even more so during the other spectrum of emotions.
4. Agree to disagree
We've all had moments where we disagree with a certain behaviour or ideology of our friends. Within my friend circle for example, we have different opinions on local politics; but we accept each other's opinions while respectfully giving our own point of views.
Don't take disagreements personal (if they aren't), and try to put yourself in their shoes as well, to see why they think or act in a certain way.
Of course, that is not to say that all behaviours can be justified and ignored. If your friend is participating excessively in vices like alcohol, smoking etc, you should definitely step in to help them.
5. Make goals together and work towards it
People often set personal goals, but hardly 'shared' goals with friends. Having a shared goal together helps to build on the camaraderie and kinship with the knowledge that there is someone with you on your journey towards your goal.
For example, you could set a fitness goal with your friend: to hit both of your ideal physiques by the end of next year. With this shared goal in mind, it can pave the way for more activities and conversation points with each other, further strengthening the quality of the friendship.
Some other examples of shared goals:
- Saving $100,000 by the age of 30
- Turning side hobbies into businesses
- Getting promoted by the year end
And that's it! Now that you've learnt some ways to become a better friend, the next step is really to apply this knowledge in your own friendships. I hope that this article has been useful for you; here's to being a better friend.