By Alaia Williams
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.
Friendships are incredibly important. At certain stages in our lives, friendships are everything to us – the most important thing in our lives.
Friendships help define us. Our friends can influence our choices – where we live, what we eat, what we buy. Friendships grow and change as people come and grow. There is old proverb that says, “friends are flowers in the garden of life.” Friendships need their own kind of water and soil to grow healthy and strong.
The following are 25 things to keep in mind to facilitate building stronger friendships.
1. Choose friends wisely.
You do not have to be everyone’s friend. Choose to be friends with people who build you up, not tear you down. Choose friends who inspire you and welcome you, not alienate and insult you. You can’t choose the family you are born into, but you can choose your friends.
Listen closely to what the other person is saying. Let that person know that you hear them. Ask clarifying questions. Summarize what you’ve heard. Though helpful, it does not always have to be through words. Eye contact and body language are also important ways of showing someone you are listening.
3. Respond carefully
Think before you speak – especially if you are angry. Sometimes, taking a moment to think about what you say before you start blurting things out will spare hurt feelings and bruised pride. Also, when friends feel like it is okay to be themselves around you, they trust you. Choose your words with care.
4. Avoid consistently giving advice or trying to fix all of your friend’s problems
By all means, if a friend asks for your advice, give it. They might want you to proofread an important email before it is sent out. Maybe they are struggling with a relationship. Perhaps life is throwing them a curve ball and they need your support or insight. Don’t wiggle your way into every aspect of your friend’s life, telling them how to be the star of their own show. Give them room to process things and make their own decisions.
5. Play fair
Avoid trying to one-up your friends. Eventually your friends won’t want to play with you anymore.
6. Be authentic.
Be yourself. Be honest. Avoid putting up a fake personality. We all test our relationships by throwing something out there about our true nature. We then hide behind a corner, head peeking out, waiting for the response. If someone can’t accept you for who you are, developing a relationship with them will be hard. Don’t shortchange yourself by denying your beliefs, values, and point of view, for the sake of fitting in. You won’t be doing anyone any favors.
7. Communicate openly and honestly.
Developing communication with a person can take time – and trust! Ask your friends what you can do for them. Share what you have to offer. Don’t be afraid to let people know what you need. Share what is necessary, but don’t dominate conversation. When a problem arises, work through it together.
8. Accept your friends for who they are.
On your search for friends who can accept your authentic self, keep in mind – other people are looking for the same thing. We all want people who love us for who we are.
9. Respect their choices.
It is okay to disagree . If your friend decides to make a move when you think standing still is the right thing to do, let them do their thing. If you’ve given your advice and your friend sees things differently, step aside. What your friend is doing might be right for their life but not yours. They might be making a mistake, but if it doesn’t kill them, maim them, or leave them in a coma, hopefully they can learn from the experience. And, if it will kill them, lock them in a closet and don’t let them out until they’ve forgotten why you trapped them in there in the first place.
10. Be the kind of friend you want others to be for you.
You want friends who are honest, kind, compassionate, fair, not judgmental, authentic, and intelligent. Be that person first and you’ll be more likely to attract that kind of friend into your life.
11. Be empathetic. Trying to understand things from your friend’s point of view can help you communicate and understand each other better.
12. Give compliments. Show love for your friends by complimenting them on their good qualities or things they do well. Has a friend done something you admire them for? Let them know!
13. Express your gratitude
Let your friends know that you value your friendship. Tell them. Write them a note. Did you see the collector’s edition of their favorite movie while you were out? Buy a copy. Surprise your friend by taking him or her out for lunch or dinner at one of their favorite places.
14. Admit and apologize.
When you do something wrong, admit it. Learn to apologize. Sometimes a friend is upset, and all they want from you is to (genuinely) say “sorry.” It shows that you realize your misstep, and that you will hopefully not make the same mistake again.
15. Let go.
Did a friend do something that hurt you? Have you talked it through? Were apologies made? Let go and move on! If you don’t, you’ll hang on to the transgression and it will taint the relationship going forward. Don’t trudge up a prickly patch of your past. Try your best to make a fresh start.
16. Make time for your friends.
Spend time with your friends. It might feel odd to schedule your friends on your calendar, but if you have a busy schedule, getting them in your book, is better than letting them go. Show your friends that you want to be around them. Is your friend far away? Write them an email, chat with them via IM, call them on the phone, plan a weekend get together. Making time for your friends sends the message that they are an important part of your life.
17. Keep your promises .
If you know you can’t deliver something, don’t promise that you will. If you make a promise, do you best to keep it. It is better to say “I don’t think I can make it on Saturday night, but lets get lunch next week,” than saying you will show up, and then accept a different invitation or cancel at the last minute.
18. Celebrate what you have in common.
Most friendships are started because of some common thread – a favorite sport, a love of books, an appreciation of fine wine, an insufferable boss. Get season tickets to your favorite baseball team or check out the local library book sale together next month.
19. Try new things together
What new experiences can you share with your friend? It could be as simple as checking out the new local coffee shop, or as adventurous as bungee jumping.
20. Have fun together
Friendships, like any other relationship, can fall into a rut sometimes – especially if all you do with your friends is share your latest complaints every time you see each other. Shake up the routine. Go out and do something fun you both enjoy, or look at that list of new things to try that you came up with and do one of them. It’s great to have a friend you can open up with, but lighten the burden load and let loose – create some happy memories together.
21. Seek balance in your friendship.
Entering a relationship with selfish motives and being a person who takes and takes and takes until the well runs dry, is likely to lead a lonely life. Serve and support your friends. What can you do for them? How can you help? What can you add to their life or their day to make it a little bit better?
22. Take equal responsibility for the friendship.
Take turns making plans or driving across town to see each other. If there is a problem, acknowledge your part in it and figure out, together, how to make it right. If both people are not tending to the relationship, it will not flourish.
23. Be a cheerleader
Be encouraging. Motivate your friends. Affirmation goes a long way. If your friends aren’t in your corner, who is?
24. Keep personal information confidential
As relationships grow, it is common for friends to share confidential information with you. If a friend tells you a secret it is because they trust you and believe that you will keep what they told you in the strictest of confidence. Do not betray your friend by sharing their secret stories with others. Many times a relationship has been ruined over spilled secrets.
25. Unclench your fist.
Friendships grow and change. Sometimes they end . You can change a lot in a year. Imagine how much you can change in 10 years. The person you were when you met someone is not the person you will always be. You grow up. You change your mind about things. Your friends will do the same. Sometimes a friend you’ve known for years will start to play a bigger role in your life as the years pass. Perhaps your lifestyles change radically and spending tons of time together just does not feel right anymore because you have fewer interests in common. This friend might stay in your life, but might have less impact on and influence in it. That’s okay. If a person is bringing you down, hurting you, or starts to go down a dangerous path, it is completely acceptable to end the relationship. Sometimes we struggle to hang on to a wilting relationship. Many times, it is healthier to let go.
Alaia Williams is a Professional Organizer based in Los Angeles, CA. Her blog, One Organized Life , includes articles about organizing, simplicity, work/life balance, and productivity.