Here are 10 fail-proof ways to be a better friend:
Work at it.
Remember the friendships you had when you were in pigtails? Back when sharing a candy bar or confiding a secret inevitably led to a friendship ring? Somehow it was easier to make friends back then. You probably know people who keep honing their friendship skills, very consciously updating and refining them. It’s worth studying these “friendship pros” and adopting the strategies that make sense to you: Maybe it’s calling a friend every evening before bed. Maybe it’s taking the time to bake brownies for regular Saturday morning walks together.
Less is more.
Most of us go through life with hundreds of acquaintances. But when it comes to cultivating true friendships, it’s important to keep the circle small. Once you focus on a handful of people you really care for, it’s important to find ways to celebrate and deepen those ties. You’ll feel the difference.
Hone your listening skills.
A good friend listens with her whole being. Always make eye contact with the speaker and nod occasionally to show you understand. Turn your body toward your friend. On the phone, avoid interrupting or finishing sentences. Minimize distractions on your end.
Empathize, don’t criticize.
Unless a friend in needs asks specifically for your guidance, it’s probably best to minimize advice. This prevents the possibility of awkwardness when your suggestion isn’t followed. Focus on empathizing instead. Soothing phrases like “That must be so hard,” or “I’m so sorry you’re disappointed” can make a friend feel very supported. Or try touch: A hug or comforting arm around the shoulder can speak volumes.
If a friend doesn’t really know you, she can’t really be there for you. Gradually let your guard down. Confide your fears. Let her know your vulnerabilities. A good friendship is an ongoing dance of give and take.
Sweat the small stuff.
Life is in the details; we all want them noticed! Be sure to comment on the new hair cut, the neon gym shoes, the unusual folk CD playing in the car. In other words, the things that make your friend unique. Birthdays fall into this category, too. Many of us talk tough, claiming we’re past the stage of candles and cake, but the truth is that none of us want the day to slip by unrecognized.
Join the Information Age.
Our grandmothers might have had the proverbial picket fence to linger over, but now we have e-mail. Even brief messages can do the trick: Zap a quick hello or forward information from a news story that you know will interest your friend. She likes mystery novels? Fly-fishing? Time capsules? E-mail her the address for a cool website on the subject. There’s nothing like e-mail or even an unexpected funny postcard to draw friends closer.
Remember the Golden Rule.
Do unto your friends as you would have them do unto you. Honor their confidences. Respect their belongings. Celebrate their achievements. Being a true friend beckons to the best in each of us. Let it shine.
Plan for the future.
Always, in parting, talk about what you might do together the next time. Be specific about time and place: “Let’s come back to this coffee shop in the summer” you might say, for example. Referring to future activities reinforces how much you value a person’s company. It also implies that you think your friendship is long-lasting, no matter what may come up–a move, a new spouse, a child–along the way.
In a healthy friendship there’s a lot of laughter. Let it loose–it means there’s trust and mutual recognition of the strange and wonderful surprises that life tosses in.