February 5, 2015

23 Scientific Ways to Make Friends Fast


Relationships were easy in preschool. You tagged someone on the back and had an instant friend. Once you hit adulthood, winning over another person takes work. If it's become harder for you to make new friends — and keep them — read this handy list of tips.

© bekassine... (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

Why You Need Friends

1. Do it for your health
Hopefully you don’t need a reason to make some new chums, but if you need some motivation, know that your health could depend on it. In a 2012 study of 2,100 adults, researchers found that feelings of isolation are more dangerous than actual physical isolation. In fact, people who feel they do not have a connection to others are believed to have a higher mortality rate than those who do (even the disillusioned). And in a separate study, Brigham Young University psychologists found that having only weak social connections in your life is practically just as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese.

2. Do it for your peace of mind
Even if you’re the most independent person on the planet, you’ll want someone by your side when times get tough. Friends add joy, humor, and emotional support to everyday life, and a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows that it can impact how we perceive reality. They found that when subjects were shown a steep hill, those who had a friend by their side estimated the hill was less steep than those who faced it alone. Their study demonstrates that having friends by your side can turn unreachable mountains into surmountable molehills.

Where to Find Friends

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3. Do an inventory of places where everyone knows your name
Maybe you’re a regular at a nearby coffee shop but you tend to keep to yourself. Or maybe you commute to work but you always have your ear buds on. If you can let down your guard and be open to conversation, you could be more likely to find a friend in places you frequent. A 2011 study found that same-sex strangers rated each other higher after each social encounter. The more someone sees you around, the more likely you can move beyond being superficial acquaintances.

4. Look to your office for possible friends
Did you know that if you have friends at work, you’re much more likely to feel engaged in your career as well as be happier and more productive? If you’re the type who likes to eat lunch alone in your cubicle, maybe you need to branch out and start attending those after-work happy hour sessions. It might just improve your professional life, as well as your social life.

5. Get a hobby
Do you like woodworking, painting, and martial arts? Use what you like to do to meet people like you. Like that first day at preschool, it’s easier to meet people if you start at the same place. If you both have two left feet at Zumba class but you love to dance anyway, you instantly have something in common that is easy to talk and laugh about. A team of researchers from the University of Southampton studied social networks and found that people’s friendships often depend on their current interests, whether it’s politics, music, or sports. They also found that people’s cliques change with their interests over time. If your hobbies are more solitary in nature, like hiking or reading, join a book club or a meet-up group to meet likeminded souls.

6. Share a secret
We’re not talking about negative stuff, like family secrets. But sharing how you would feel in certain situations or when you last visited a favorite place, for example, can help create closeness among strangers. Research by Stony Brook University professor Arthur Aron showed that deep questions and answers among strangers can start friendships in just 45 minutes.

7. Don’t rely on social media to build up your friendship tree
If you think you’re going to make friends hiding behind a computer screen, you’re wrong. The only people who find it easy to make friends on social media are those who are already well connected in the real world. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology supports this idea. Researchers found that social media is good for those who want to keep in touch with friends they have already but may increase feelings of loneliness for those who are looking to expand their social circle. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to genuine, lasting friendships, and you’ll to have to put in the legwork to make real-life friends.

How to Get New Friends

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8. Be happy (or fake it)
People are attracted to people who seem to be having a good time. By adopting a positive attitude, you could draw in more people to your circle. Not only that, but some researchers believe that happiness is contagious. Researchers from the University of Hawaii and Ohio State University theorized that people can “catch” other people’s emotions when they’re around them. According to their theory, if you’re a downer, you’re probably going to depress other people. However, if you’re happy, your cheerful mood might just rub off on others and leave them wanting more of your good vibes. Go ahead — a smile won’t kill you!

9. Bring out the compliments
A little flattery never hurts, especially when it’s genuine. As an icebreaker, take a moment to notice what it is about the other person that you like. To someone at the gym, tell them you like their yoga mat and ask them where they got it. To the person two doors down you haven’t yet met, compliment them on their hydrangeas and ask them what their secret is. Researchers Joan Manes and Nessa Wolfson studied what they called “the compliment formula” and found that people use compliments to reinforce or create solidarity with another person. There’s always something noteworthy you can say about another person, and compliments serve as instant conversation starters. Very few people can resist flattery and they may even return the favor.

10. Make the first move
Many people are reserved and live in their own world. You might be sitting next to your future best friend on the bus and not even know it. In many social situations, you’re going to have to make the first move and put the other person at ease. Psychologists Steven Asher and Sherri Oden studied elementary school children and their ability to make friends and be accepted by their peers. They found that one of the most essential skills that children need in order to make friends is the ability to initiate interaction. Maybe you can’t invite your new neighbor over to play dolls or make a fort, but there are plenty of other ways that you can make them a part of your inner circle. Is there someone you admire at work or who has expertise in something you’d love to know more about? Invite them for coffee to get the ball rolling.

11. But be willing to practice patience
If you’re too eager to make friendships, your potential friend may put their defenses up. Take it slow with small talk, building your way up from comments about the weather to what you watched on TV last night. Research has shown that friendships usually progress from small talk to more meaty discussions after similarities have been discovered and a foundation for friendship has been established.

12. See yourself in the other person
In a social conversation with someone new, it’s a good idea to quickly find out what you have in common with the other person. According to a study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, your ability to find people you see as similar to yourself will help you form alliances.

13. Act confident
Showing a confident face to the world is attractive, whether you’re looking for a job, a date, or a new friend. When you’re self-assured, it inspires other people’s confidence in you and makes you more approachable. Although humility is often considered a virtue, psychologists believe that displaying overconfidence can give you more social status. In a series of experiments, the researchers found that those who rated their abilities higher than they deserved were also rated higher by their peers and viewed as more competent, influential, and deserving of admiration. If you’re not the cocky type, fake it ’til you make it.

14. Choose wisely
Choose your friends carefully, because we often become like the company we keep. The friends you have may be holding you back from making quality relationships. In fact, your friends may be affecting you more than you think. Researchers from the University of Michigan are currently studying social networks on Facebook and trying to find a correlation between the behaviors of friends versus an individual’s behavior. And economists Matthew Jackson and Leeat Yariv from Stanford University theorize that certain behaviors can spread among one’s social network like a disease. Whether you buy into these theories is your choice, but our friends’ impact on our personalities and behavior is undeniable.

How to Keep Your Friends

© Naveen Kadam (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

15. Always reciprocate, but don’t expect something in return
According to this study, close friendships can be mutually beneficial but are not based on a carefully monitored exchange of benefits. True friendship goes beyond the “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back” by helping each other even when your friend is not capable of repaying the favor.

16. But also see that person for who they are and what they need
Try to show empathy or understanding regarding your friends’ perspectives and life experiences. Your relationships will become stronger as a result. In a study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 22 young adults had functional MRI scans of their brains to monitor activity when they were shown that electrical shocks were being sent to themselves, a friend, or stranger. The activity of the brain was the same when the friend was threatened as it was when they were threatened, while there was little activity when they witnessed a threat to a stranger. Feeling your friend’s pain as if it were your own is a sign that the bonds of your friendship run deep.

17. Be open to turning your empathy upside down
You’re probably a pro at being there for someone in a time of tragedy, but can you just as easily support a friend who’s more fortunate than you? If you often fall victim to the green-eyed monster, you’re going to have to check yourself if you plan on making friends and keeping them. Scientists Young-Ho Eom and Hang-Hyun Jo theorize that according to the “generalized friendship paradox,” your friends will always be better than you in some way. Statistically speaking, your friends, on average, will always be better looking, more successful, wealthier, and more popular than you. And statistically speaking, your friends’ friends will also be better than they are. Since everybody’s basically inferior to everyone else, you shouldn’t let envy get in the way of your friendships. There’s no point.

18. Put up with imperfections (we all have them!)
A good friend won’t always agree with everything you do, but they’re someone who will be with you through the good and the bad, someone who accepts you the way you are. The best way to find this type of friend is to be this type of friend. Although scientists have proven the adage true that “birds of a feather flock together” and people tend to make friends with likeminded people, we’re bound to have disagreements with our friends from time to time. Researchers Susan Sprecher and Pamela Regan cite acceptance as an important quality in both platonic and romantic relationships. Maybe your friend supports a different political party than you. Or maybe they have an annoying habit that you can’t stand. Being a true friend means being tolerant of your friends’ quirks and valuing them for who they truly are.

19. Forgive and forget
When you become close to another person, you’re bound to rub each other the wrong way. Your ability to forgive can make or break your friendship. L. Lori Poole conducted a study to see how one’s ability to forgive is linked to their feelings of empathy, trust, satisfaction with the relationship, and their level of commitment. She found a positive correlation between survey respondents’ feelings of trust and commitment and their ability to forgive a friend for a transgression. If you feel your friend betrayed you, ask yourself: Are you committed to your friendship? And do you trust that your friend won’t betray you again? If the answer is yes to both questions, it’s time to let bygones be bygones.

20. Don’t take it personally
Do you often misinterpret others’ intentions or get upset over a friend cancelling plans at the last minute? Unless you want to bully people into being friends with you, that type of high-maintenance behavior has got to go. A group of researchers studied adolescents’ friendship patterns and how they selected friends. They found that people who ranked high in agreeableness according to the Big 5 Personality Test were more likely to be chosen as friends by their peers. Agreeable people are more empathetic, cooperative, and seek harmony in relationships. In other words, they put themselves in other people’s shoes and try to work out problems. Even if you feel slighted, give your friends the benefit of the doubt. Some things just aren’t worth arguing over.

21. Be trustworthy
Can you keep a secret, or do you love to gossip? Can you be counted on when someone needs you? Trust is one of the key components to any long-lasting relationship with others, including friends. Sociologists Mary Riege Laner and J. Neil Russell surveyed college students to find out the qualities they require of a spouse and a best friend, and trustworthiness was one of the most commonly chosen attributes. Your friends and loved ones want to know that you have their back, no matter the circumstances. After all, if you can’t count on your friends, who can you count on?

22. Listen up
When you have a problem, there’s nothing better than to call up a friend to talk it out and get their honest opinion. Friends should be there for each other when they need someone to lend an ear or offer advice. Being a good listener isn’t just a valuable trait as a friend, it’s also a necessary social skill. In a study conducted by Christopher Gearhart and Graham Bodie of 300 college students, people who ranked low in active empathetic listening also ranked low in other social skills. Everyone wants to be heard, so allowing time for your friend to speak before you ramble on about your last vacation will earn you points as a good listener.

23. Remember that you can’t please everybody
As you’re putting the above techniques to the test, remember that not everybody’s going to be your friend, and that’s OK. Some people just don’t click, and it’s not your job to force something that doesn’t work. You don’t have room in your brain for an excess of friends anyway. According to this study, primates (including humans) have only a fixed amount of cognitive space for social relationships, which means that the average person can maintain only about 150 friends at a time. Time constraints, location, a lack of mutual interests, or differing personalities can make a friendship naturally die out. If that happens to you, don’t fret. Remember: some friendships can be revived at a later time.

(Writing by Kelly, Additional Writing by Cassy, Editing by Sarah, Additional Editing by Dana)

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